Celebrating Interior Women in Leadership

Each year, Women’s History Month offers an important opportunity for us to shine a light on women who have built, shaped and improved upon our nation. Let's take a moment to celebrate some of the female role models who are shaping our future at the Department of the Interior. 

First Native American Cabinet Secretary: Deb Haaland

Portrait of Secretary Deb Haaland wearing a blue dress, smiling in front of trees

Secretary Deb Haaland made history by becoming the first Native American to serve as a U.S. cabinet secretary. Her life story is a legacy of firsts. After running for New Mexico Lieutenant Governor in 2014, Secretary Haaland became the first Native American woman to be elected to lead a state party. She is one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress and her family has a history of public service with her father serving as a 30-year combat Marine, and her mother is a Navy veteran who served as a federal employee for 25 years at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As a 35th generation New Mexican and member of the Pueblo of Laguna, Secretary Haaland has broken barriers and her achievements have opened the doors of opportunity for future generations.

First Woman Secretary of the Interior: Gale Norton

Gale Norton - a woman with blond hair wearing a scarf and coat - stands in front of the American flag.

Photo by Tami Heilemann, Department of the Interior. 

Gale Norton was the first female Secretary of the Interior. Her inspiration for a career in conservation started with loving the mountains. After being immersed in nature and the outdoors in Colorado as a child, she became the state’s Attorney General. Her life in politics eventually led her to serving as Interior Secretary from 2001-2006. During her tenure, she increased funding for conservation partnerships and promoted cooperative conservation.

First Woman Leader of Indian Affairs: Ada E. Deer

Ada Deer wearing yellow shirt and glasses smiles into the camera.

Photo by Tami Heilemann, Department of the Interior.

A social worker born on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin, Ada E. Deer welcomed the opportunity to become the first woman to oversee Indian Affairs in 1993. As Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, she reportedly said she was turning the Bureau of Indian Affairs “upside down and shaking it.” With a strong focus on the rights of American Indians, youth and women, she successfully fought for federal recognition for American Indian Tribes and Alaska Native villages. In 2010, the National Association of Social Workers recognized her for her work and advocacy on behalf of American Indians. She is an active advocate for her Tribe and all Native Americans.  

First Woman Director of the U.S. Geological Survey: Marcia K. McNutt

 Marcia McNutt, a woman with short blonde hair wearing a black shirt, smiles into the camera.

In 2009, Marcia K. McNutt became the first woman director of Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey – 130 years after its founding in 1879. During her four years at USGS, McNutt – a noted marine geophysicist – was involved in a number of major scientific events and advances. She went on to become the first woman elected president of the National Academy of Sciences, which was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln as a private, nongovernmental institution to advise the nation on the subject of science or art.

First Woman Bureau of Land Management Director: Kathleen Burton Clarke

Kathleen Clark, a blonde woman wearing a white shirt, stands outside and looks up at the sky.

Photo by Tami Heilemann, Department of the Interior.

Like other women leaders at Interior, Kathleen Burton Clarke’s career began in her home state. A native of Utah, Clarke served Congressman James V. Hansen and was the Executive Director and Deputy Director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. From 2001 to 2006, she served as the first female director of the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the largest acreage of public land at Interior.

First Woman National Park Service Director: Fran Mainella

Fran Mainella, a woman with shoulder-length blonde hair, smiling and standing in front of trees.

Photo by National Park Service. 

Fran Mainella developed an early love for parks and recreation in her youth when she served as summer playground counselor in Connecticut. After more than 30 years in the park management and recreation field – including director of the Florida Division of Recreation and Parks – she became the head of Interior’s National Park Service in 2001. Mainella promoted partnerships and volunteerism supporting the parks.

First Woman Director of the Office of Surface Mining & Enforcement: Kathy Karpan

Kathy Karpan against a blue background. She is smiling and wearing a white blouse and a red blazer.

Photo by Tami Heilemann, Department of the Interior.

In July 1997, Kathy Karpan became the first U.S. Senate-confirmed Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. Previously, Karpan served as the Director of the Wyoming Department of Health and the Wyoming Secretary of State. The daughter of a coal miner, Karpan was tasked with working cooperatively with coal-producing states to ensure coal mining was conducted in a safe and environmentally sound manner and that the effects of past mining activities were mitigated through the reclamation of abandoned mines. Karpan served as Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement for 2 ½ years, after which she served as Interior’s Principal Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management.

First Woman Fish & Wildlife Service Director: Mollie Beattie

Mollie Beatie - a woman with brown hair wearing fishing gear - stands on a riverbank holding binoculars as a bear stands in the background.

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Mollie Beattie’s love of nature as child came from her grandmother, who sheltered injured animals in Vermont. Long before she had heard of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Wildlife Refuge System, Beattie created “refuges” in her home and yard for small animals. As USFWS director from 1993 to her death in 1996, she championed endangered species, including the reintroduction of the gray wolf into Yellowstone. Congress named a wilderness area in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in her honor.