Hungarian-born American public relations consultant, political appointee, and assistant secretary of defense
When Anna Rosenberg came of age in the second decade of the twentieth century, women did not have the right to vote and segregation between the races was standard. From her childhood and throughout her life, Rosenberg served her country with a clear vision of equality and justice for all people. As assistant secretary of defense for manpower and personnel during the Korean War (1950–53), Anna Rosenberg achieved the highest position in the U.S. military ever held by a woman. Things were changing for women and minorities in the 1950s in the military as elsewhere, and there were many people in powerful positions in the military and in the government who were not comfortable with the changes. Rosenberg faced the male-dominated public world with grace and with power. In her capacity as assistant secretary of defense, she was responsible for bringing many women into the military, for helping to bring about the desegregation of African Americans and whites in the armed services, and for developing training programs and improving conditions for everyone in the service.
Anna Marie Lederer Rosenberg was born in 1902 in Budapest, Hungary, the daughter of Albert Lederer, a successful furniture manufacturer, and Charlotte Lederer, the author and illustrator of children's books. The family lived a comfortable life in Budapest until Rosenberg was ten years old. Albert Lederer's prosperous business was destroyed at that time, when Franz Joseph (1830–1916), the Austrian emperor and Hungarian king, canceled a large furniture order. Lederer, disgusted that the whim of a monarch could instantly ruin his life's work, moved with his family to the United States in 1912. They settled in the Bronx, New York.
An activist from age twelve
Anna Rosenberg became active in politics while attending New York City's Wadleigh High School. In 1914, at the age of twelve, she organized the Future Voters League, an association dedicated to woman's suffrage (the right to vote; women gained full voting rights in the United States in 1928). Next World War I (1914–18) took up her energy and attention. She volunteered at a military hospital in Manhattan and sold Liberty Bonds and Thrift Stamps, investments people could buy to help finance the war effort. In 1919, she married a soldier, Julius Rosenberg, and became a citizen of the United States. Two years later, at the age of 21, she gave birth to their son, Thomas, her only child.
In the 1920s, Rosenberg was active in Democratic politics in New York. After managing a successful campaign for a city elder, she opened her own business as a public relations, personnel, and labor consultant. The business was extremely successful, and one of her clients was the (then) governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945), who wanted her help on important labor matters. In 1934, she became an assistant to the regional director of the National Recovery Administration and then took over as regional director.
From 1936 to 1942, Rosenberg served as a regional commissioner for New York for the Social Security Board, the first woman to hold the position. At the same time, she served on many boards in New York City, working closely with New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia (1882–1947). She also worked at the state level, and on vital national issues, performing an extensive study on labor relations for (now) President Roosevelt. She kept her consulting business running successfully through it all. In 1942, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee investigated the possible conflict of interest Rosenberg might have between her position in the Social Security administration and her own consulting firm. She convinced them that none of her other work conflicted with her government duties. Her tireless energy and interest enabled her to do several jobs and do them extremely well. La Guardia once said, as quoted in Current Biography, that she knew "more about labor relations and human relations than any man in the country."
The observer for presidents, World War II
During World War II (1939–45), Rosenberg became the first woman to hold the post of regional director of the War Manpower Commission, a position she held from 1942 to 1945. In 1944, she accepted a short-term position as the chief assistant to Brigadier General Frank T. Hines, director of retraining and re-employment. In 1944, she toured the theater of war operations in Europe at the request of Roosevelt to serve as his personal observer and especially to find out what the enlisted men wanted from the government when the war was over. After interviewing the troops in the field, Rosenberg concluded that they wanted access to the kind of education that had been too expensive for them to consider in the past. She came back a champion of the GI Bill, which provided funds for a college education as a benefit of joining the service, and saw the bill pass. In 1945, President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; see entry) sent her on another mission to Europe, at the war's end, to oversee demobilization, bringing the soldiers home.
Rosenberg was by this time quite an expert on military personnel issues and was known for her progressive values regarding women and minorities. After leaving her position on
the War Manpower Commission, she returned to her consulting firm, but continued to serve on many boards and committees related to military personnel.
War in Korea
When the Korean War erupted on June 25, 1950, there were dire shortages of military personnel. Truman had, after World War II, reduced the military budget drastically and the number of troops available was desperately low. When it was decided that the United States was going to send ground troops into Korea, a twelve-member committee was formed to investigate and advise on mobilization (assembling soldiers to serve in the war). Rosenberg was one of the members. Later in 1950, Rosenberg was offered the position of assistant secretary of defense for manpower and personnel, serving under Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall (1880–1959). She was confirmed for the position by the Senate Arms Services Committee.
Just as she assumed her new position, Rosenberg temporarily became a victim of the cold war. Rumors began to spread that she was a communist, and her appointment as assistant secretary of defense was revoked. (The cold war was a period of political tension and military rivalry between the United States and the communist Soviet Union that began after World War II and persisted until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Communism is a set of political beliefs that advocates the elimination of private property, a system in which goods are owned by the community as a whole rather than by specific individuals and are available to all as needed. Communism is at odds with the American economic system, capitalism, in which individuals, rather than the state, own the property and businesses.) Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908–1957; see entry) of Wisconsin, who had stirred up the American public by accusing many government officials of being communists, had been involved in the accusations against Rosenberg, as was a member of the racist group the Ku Klux Klan. It was a time when rumors and false accusations ruined many careers, and observers felt that Rosenberg was being targeted because she was a woman, because she was Jewish, and because she held liberal values that would lead to change. In the investigation that followed she was quickly cleared of having communist affiliations and reinstated to her post.
As assistant secretary of defense, Rosenberg was responsible for coordinating all of the Defense Department's personnel activities, which had previously been carried out among a number of agencies. The first major project she undertook was to draft what later came to be known as the Universal Service and Training bill. The goal of the Defense Department was to keep the nation's labor resources equally distributed among farms, factories, and the military. The new bill provided for training enough eighteen-year-olds to maintain a force of more than three million troops by July 1951, which entailed lowering the draft age to eighteen.
New recruits, better conditions
In 1948, Congress had passed the Women's Armed Forces Integration Act, which aimed to open military career prospects to women. With the outbreak of war and shortage of personnel, Rosenberg sought ways to recruit more women into military service. She knew from personal experience that women entering what had always been a man's world were going to encounter obstacles to advancement and social snubbing. In August 1951, she established the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS). This group of fifty accomplished women from a wide range of professions led a drive to recruit women into military service. They also investigated ways to improve the conditions under which women would serve, such as providing women with access to prestigious career paths and educating the public to accept women in important professional roles.
Before the war in Korea, most of the American military was still racially segregated (African Americans were separated from whites). Coming into the war, it had some all-black units. The men in those units were not always treated well by the rest of the army and the training and leadership were often inferior. President Truman had signed Executive Order 9981 in 1948, which provided for "equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the Armed Forces," but only the air force had actually integrated its troops, with African Americans and other minorities living and working in the same facilities. The army had dragged its feet on the issue. Rosenberg, always an advocate of civil rights, oversaw the racial integration of the services. During the war, the last of the segregated units were deactivated and the men from the all-black units were absorbed into other, integrated units.
In 1953, when the Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969; see entry) came into office as president, the Democratic Rosenberg was replaced as assistant secretary of defense. The 1950s were a tough time for women and minorities, but Rosenberg had done a great deal to change the makeup of the military personnel during the war, and more to keep it progressing in the years to come.
Private citizen Rosenberg
Rosenberg was never exempt from the prejudices of the day. Most of the press coverage of her in the 1950s and 1960s reported more on her bracelets and hats than on her exceptional public service. However, she won the respect of so many of the nation's leaders that it is clear she was highly skilled in negotiating in a men's world, and, according to most sources, she did it with dignity, humor, and intelligence.
After the war, Rosenberg returned to her public relations firm, where she worked for thirty more years. She remained active on boards and committees, earning the nickname "Seven Job Anna." In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973) appointed her to serve on the Commission on Income Maintenance, a committee formed to study welfare programs. She received many awards in her lifetime, including being the first civilian to receive the Medal of Freedom (1945) and the first woman to receive the Medal for Merit (1947). She was also honored with a Horatio Alger Award (1949); Department of Defense Exceptional Civilian Award (1953); Medallion of the City of New York (1966); and a Congressional Certificate of Appreciation (1972). From the age of twelve, when she started organizing for woman suffrage, to the day she died from complications of cancer in 1983, Rosenberg had skillfully and tirelessly served her country.
Where to Learn More
Tananbaum, Susan L. "Anna Lederer Rosenberg." In Jewish Women in America: A Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. II, edited by Paula E. Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore. New York: Routledge, 1997.
Thurston, Christy. "Anna Marie Lederer Rosenberg." In American National Biography, Vol. 18, edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
United States Army. "Women in the Korean War." Fiftieth Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Site. [Online] http://korea50.army.mil/history/factsheets/women.html (accessed on August 14, 2001).
Words to Know
cold war: the struggle for power, authority, and prestige between the communist Soviet Union and the capitalist Western powers of Europe and the United States from 1945 until 1991.
demobilization: bringing the soldiers home.
desegregation: eliminating separation of people because of race or other factors.
integration: the act of bringing all the groups of individuals within an organization into the whole as equals; the elimination of separate facilities and structures for different racial groups.
mobilization: assembling soldiers to serve in the war.
segregation: the separation of different groups of individuals within an organization or society.
suffrage: the right to vote.