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 Moment

The Firehouse Meal

The Firehouse Meal

More From Brenda

In this video

Sometimes the smallest indignities are the most humiliating.

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

Kathy Kusner
Kathy Kusner
First Licensed Female Jockey

Kathy Kusner is a pioneering jockey who became the first licensed female jockey in the U.S. Growing up, Kusner couldn't afford a horse of her own, but she worked in stables so ...

Letty Cottin Pogrebin
Letty Cottin Pogrebin
Author & Co-Founder of Ms. Magazine

Women's activist Letty Cottin Pogrebin is a founding editor of Ms. magazine, co-founder of the National Women's Political Caucus, and the author of 10 books. A graduate...

Nancy Lublin
Nancy Lublin
Social Entrepreneur

With a $5,000 inheritance, Nancy Lublin has been able to change countless lives. In 1995, she founded Dress for Success, a non-profit organization that promotes the economic indepe...

Katharine Wolf
Katharine Wolf
Social Challenge Advisor

Katharine Wolf is an entrepreneur and investor for social good. She advises OrganJet, a company that helps transplant patients travel across the United States to receive treatment ...