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BerkmanBrenda Berkman broke the glass ceiling of the NYC Fire Department in 1982 so that 40 women could join the 10,000 men risking their lives to fight fires daily. As the kick-off speaker for Women’s History Month on March 1, Berkman will share her exceptional life story that earned her the nickname “the first female firefighter in NYC” and the Woman of Courage Award from the National Organization for Women. The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Regis Room.

Berkman, also an attorney at the time, filed and won a lawsuit against the city of New York on the basis of gender discrimination. In 1982, the New York City Fire Department tests were changed to be more job-related. For years afterwards, the women faced mental, physical and sexual abuse. The PBS documentary Taking the Heat: The First Women Firefighters of New York City chronicles the journey of Berkman and others in the FDNY.

When asked why she chose to keep working in this hostile environment, Berkman explained, “I found out I loved firefighting—I loved helping the people and the physical and mental challenges of the job. I would no longer accept people telling me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl.”

Berkman fought fires for 25 years, retiring as a captain, saving lives and changing lives right up to the present as she continuously champions the cause of all groups experiencing workplace discrimination.

Please join us for the rare opportunity to hear and meet Captain Brenda Berkman, a woman who truly challenged stereotypes and changed history. The event is sponsored by the Women & Gender Studies Program and the All-College Honors Program.

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Submitted by: Kate M. Dierenfield, adjunct professor, history