Donna E. Shalala is the longest serving Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) in U.S. history. She accepted the post in January 1993 to lead the federal government’s principal agency for protecting the health of Americans and providing essential human services. HHS administers a wide variety of programs including Medicare, Medicaid and federal welfare and children’s programs.
In her seven years as secretary the agency has helped guide the welfare reform process and made health insurance available to an estimated 2.5 million children. The agency has raised child immunization rates to the highest levels in history; led the fight against young peoples’ use of tobacco; created national initiatives to fight breast cancer, racial and ethnic health disparities, and violence against women; and crusaded for better access and better medications to treat AIDS.
Born February 14, 1941, in Cleveland, Ohio, Donna Shalala earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Western College for Women in 1962 and a doctoral degree from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 1970.
From 1975 to 1977, she served as treasurer of New York City’s Municipal Assistance Corporation, the organization that helped rescue the city from the edge of bankruptcy. Shalala then went on to become President of Hunter College in New York, a position she held for eight years. She also was an Assistant Secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Carter administration.
From 1987 to 1993, she served as the Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin‑Madison, the first woman to head a Big Ten university. Business Week named her one of the five best managers in higher education.
She also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Iran. She has more than two dozen honorary degrees and a host of other honors, including the 1992 National Public Service award and the Glamour Magazine Woman of The Year award in 1994. She has been elected to the National Academy of Education, the National Academy of Public Administration and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.