Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.

MAKERS Profile

Brenda Berkman

First NYC Female Firefighter

More From Brenda

In this video

Brenda Berkman on integrating the FDNY and the steep price she and others paid to win equality.

Brenda's Biography

Cause of Choice: Girls Prep Lower East Side Elementary School
Role Models:  Billie Jean King, Gloria Steinem, and Betty Friedan
Trial Run: Before taking on the FDNY, she worked as a lawyer on sexual discrimination cases brought by female NYPD officers.
Awards and Accolades: In 1996-97, she served as a White House Fellow, the first professional firefighter to be awarded this prestigious leadership development fellowship.

Brenda Berkman served the City of New York for 25 years before retiring in 2006 as a captain in its storied Fire Department. Her bravery was twofold: Berkman was summa cum laude graduate of St. Olaf College and was practicing law with a New York University J.D. when, in 1977, the Department began, grudgingly, to allow women to test for firefighter positions. The young lawyer, and FDNY applicant, challenged the fairness and relevance of the newly intensified physical test and won a federal sex discrimination lawsuit that truly opened the Department to female firefighters for the first time. Berkman was among the first class of women hired.
 
Captain Berkman has led organizations of women’s firefighters in both the New York City and nationally while earning one Master’s in American History and another in Fire Protection Management. By now, Berkman’s deep commitment to her Department and to the people of New York has long outlasted the sexual and workplace harassment that came with her pioneering career. To honor friends and colleagues who were lost on 9/11, she volunteers as a guide for walking tours at the Tribute WTC Visitor Center in Lower Manhattan. 

Related Videos

Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Our Bodies, Ourselves

The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (now known as Our Bodies Ourselves) is the non-profit responsible for Our Bodies, Ourselves, the revolutionary women's health an...

Pat Foote
Pat Foote
Retired U.S. Army Brigadier General

Brigadier General Evelyn “Pat” Foote is a retired U.S. Army general. Her groundbreaking achievements include being the first female Deputy Inspector General of the Army...

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Long before Ruth Bader Ginsburg became only the second woman ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, she broke countless legal and professional barriers for women. Raised in a wo...

Faye Wattleton
Faye Wattleton
Former President, Planned Parenthood of America

African American social activist, author, and businesswoman, Faye Wattleton has dedicated her life to preserving and protecting the rights of women, first as an advocate for reprod...