Rosenberg, Anna M. (1902–1983)

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Rosenberg, Anna M. (1902–1983)

American public official, businesswoman, and labor relations consultant. Name variations: Anna Marie Rosenberg. Born Anna Maria Lederer in Budapest, Hungary, on June 19, 1902; died in New York City in 1983; second daughter of Albert Lederer (a furniture manufacturer) and Charlotte (Bacskai) Lederer (an author and illustrator of children's books); married Julius Rosenberg (a rug merchant), on October 12, 1919 (died); married Paul Gray Hoffman (administrator of the Marshall Plan, 1948–50), in 1962; children: (first marriage) Thomas Rosenberg.

Awarded the Medal of Freedom (October 20, 1945); became the first woman decorated with the U.S. Medal for Merit (May 28, 1947); received Horatio Alger Award (July 1949); served as assistant secretary of defense (1950–53).

Born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1902, Anna M. Rosenberg immigrated to the United States with her family in 1912. Just two years later, Rosenberg, who even as a teenager was noted for her leadership skills, organized a political club at her high school in New York and helped mediate in a students' strike against compulsory military training. She later acted as head of a delegation that brought a petition to the city's Board of Aldermen, seeking a shorter school day in order to relieve overcrowded classrooms. Inspired by her father's vehement belief that anyone born outside of the United States owed a special obligation to the country, Rosenberg ultimately combined her leadership skills with a strong commitment to public affairs and rose to the upper echelons of the U.S. government.

During the early days of World War I, Rosenberg worked part-time at a base hospital in Manhattan and also sold liberty bonds and thrift stamps on street corners. She briefly interrupted her schooling to marry Julius Rosenberg, a soldier who would later become a rug merchant, on October 12, 1919. After her husband was sent overseas, Rosenberg volunteered to work at the New York Debarkation Hospital. She also became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1919.

After the war, citizenship in hand, Rosenberg listened to her husband's encouragement and entered politics only a short time after ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 had granted women the right to vote. She was elected to the Seventh Assembly District in Manhattan in the early 1920s and immediately began to cultivate key political contacts, among them Belle Moskowitz , the chief advisor for Governor Al Smith. Rosenberg soon developed a reputation for negotiation and diplomacy, and by 1924 had opened her own office as a public-relations, personnel, and labor consultant. Her renowned success in resolving labor problems caught the attention of many; after Franklin D. Roosevelt became governor of New York in 1929, he frequently consulted with her.

Rosenberg quickly rose in national prominence. In 1934, she accepted her first federal appointment as assistant to Nathan Straus, Jr., then the regional director of the National Recovery Administration (NRA) for the New York area. She succeeded him as regional director after he resigned the following year, although the NRA was soon struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. From 1936 to 1937, she served as the New York regional director of the Social Security Board. In 1937, she became a member of the New York City Industrial Relations Board and was named chair of the subcommittee on bill of rights and general welfare of the New York State Constitutional Committee. Fiorello La Guardia once said of her, "She knows more about labor relations and human relations than any man in the country."

Rosenberg continued her active involvement in public affairs throughout World War II. Appointed to several posts, she became a director of the Office of Defense and regional director of the Health and Welfare Services (1941–42), consultant to the Retraining and Re-employment Administration (1941–42), and director of Region 2, New York State, of the War Manpower Commission (1942–45), the only woman to hold such a position. Concurrently she held membership in the New York City and State War Councils and in the policy committee of the Office of Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, and the secretaryship of the President's Combined War Labor Board. Notably, while with the War Manpower Commission, Rosenberg forced the union of the Henry J. Kaiser Pacific Coast plants to accept African-American labor, and she also helped to define the "Buffalo Plan" of labor priorities in industry. Wartime also found her in the European Theater of Operations, sent there as the personal observer of both President Roosevelt and his successor, Harry Truman. For this work, Rosenberg received the Medal of Freedom in October 1945, and in 1947 she became the first woman to receive the Medal for Merit.

Immediately following the end of the war in August 1945, Rosenberg resigned from government duty and returned to her private practice. From then until President Truman, at the special request of Defense Secretary George C. Marshall, named her assistant secretary of defense in November 9, 1950, she accepted only honorary civic and governmental positions. Rosenberg ultimately accepted her new role at the Department of Defense as a patriotic duty. "Feminine and frilly as she is," observed Eleanor Roosevelt (Rosenberg was known for her dainty hats and gold bangles), "with the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps and the nation's top industrialists and labor leaders to choose from, [Marshall] wanted her." Rosenberg entered the highest post in the national military establishment ever held by a woman when she was sworn into office on November 15, 1950, charged with coordinating the manpower activities of the Defense Department. Although her confirmation by the Senate was delayed by unfounded rumors that she had attended Communist-front meetings, she was unanimously approved on December 21, 1950.

One of Rosenberg's primary tasks as assistant secretary was to develop the preparedness goals for the Defense Department. Eventually known as the Universal Military Service and Training Bill, this legislation sought to maintain equitable distribution of manpower between the armed forces, farms, and industry, and its chief provision called for the training of 18-year-olds. As well, at Rosenberg's instigation some 50 women were included on an advisory committee that followed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act.

Rosenberg's tenure at the Pentagon was not long, and this may have been due at least in part to the times, which saw both rising anti-Semitism in America and the deepening of the Cold War. (As well, she may have suffered some prejudice because of the closeness of her name to that of Ethel Rosenberg , whose 1951 sentence of death for spying for the Soviet Union was carried out in 1953.) When Eisenhower assumed the presidency in 1953, Rosenberg left the public sector, returned to New York, and again became president of her consulting firm, Anna M. Rosenberg Associates. In 1961, she was elected to the New York City Board of Education, and the following year she married for a second time, to Paul Gray Hoffman. A collector of French art, Rosenberg remained active in a number of philanthropic organizations and foundations. She lived in New York City until her death in 1983, at the age of 81.


McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Rothe, Anna, ed. Current Biography 1951. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1951.

Weatherford, Doris. American Women's History. NY: Prentice Hall, 1994.

Lisa S. Weitzman , freelance writer, Cleveland, Ohio

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Rosenberg, Anna M. (1902–1983)

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