11 March 1993: Janet Reno Becomes 1st Female U.S. Attorney General

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—in honor of March being National Women’s History Month—Gena celebrates the 21st anniversary of Janet Reno becoming the nation’s first female attorney general.

On 11 March 1993 Janet Reno accomplished a first that no other woman has done since: she was confirmed to serve as U.S. Attorney General, beginning her tenure as the second-longest-serving attorney general in our nation’s history. To this day, no other woman has served as Attorney General of the United States.

But that wasn’t the only first that Janet Reno accomplished. Searching on her in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives pulls up many news articles showing that her illustrious life was marked by many such milestones.

Janet Reno was born in Florida on 21 July 1938. After earning her chemistry degree from Cornell she attended Harvard Law School, where she was one of only 16 women in a class of 500. In this 1970 newspaper article looking back at Cornell’s graduating class of 1960, Janet Reno  is described as “now a partner in a Miami, Fla., law firm, is a prime mover in Miami’s civic affairs and is eyeing a career in politics.” According to the National Women’s Hall of Fame, she became a partner in a law firm that previously denied her a position because she was a woman.*

What Happened to (Cornell) Class of 1960? Omaha World Herald newspaper article 14 June 1970

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 14 June 1970, page 28

Prior to being nominated by then-President Bill Clinton for attorney general,  Reno served as  a partner in two law firms and then eventually went on to become the state attorney for Dade County (Florida).**

Janet Reno’s Senate hearing was different from those that we often read about: she received a standing ovation! After those two days of hearings she became the first women attorney general. She was praised by many, including Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) who attended Harvard Law School with Reno and stated she was “superbly qualified to be our nation’s top lawyer. She is an innovative, straightforward, brilliant prosecutor.”

Attorney General Hopeful (Janet Reno) Coasts through Hearing, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 10 March 1993

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 10 March 1993, page 16

Reno won unanimous approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee and started her tenure in March 1993, remaining in her position until 20 January 2001.

(Janet) Reno's Nomination Approved 18-0 by Judiciary Committee, Marietta Journal newspaper article 11 March 1993

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 11 March 1993, page 10

One can easily imagine the pressure of being the first woman in such an important post. In an article printed after her historic Senate confirmation, Reno said that she planned on tackling the job as her mother taught her: “to be prepared…You try to do the right thing, just don’t let it overwhelm you.” While she didn’t admit to feeling pressure as the first female attorney general she did say that she wanted “to do the women of America proud.”

New AG (Janet) Reno Begins Quickly, St. Albans Daily Messenger newspaper article 12 March 1993

St. Albans Daily Messenger (St. Albans, Vermont), 12 March 1993, page 1

After eight years as attorney general, Reno’s life didn’t cease to be busy. She competed in an unsuccessful bid to become governor of her home state of Florida and was narrowly defeated. That election was her last foray into political life.

Her post-public life has included work with groups like the Innocence Project, which uses DNA to exonerate those wrongly convicted, and she even stepped into the celebrity spotlight with guest spots on the television shows The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live.

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* Janet Reno, National Women’s Hall of Fame. Women of the Hall. http://www.greatwomen.org/women-of-the-hall/search-the-hall/details/2/121-Reno.

** Janet Reno, Women’s International Center, http://www.wic.org/bio/jreno.htm.

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Written by Gena Philibert-Ortega

Gena Philibert-Ortega

Gena Philibert-Ortega holds a Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and a Master’s degree in Religion. Presenting on various subjects involving genealogy, women’s studies and social history, Gena has spoken to groups throughout the United States and virtually to audiences worldwide.

Gena is the author of hundreds of articles published in genealogy newsletters and magazines including Internet Genealogy, Family Chronicle, GenWeekly, FGS Forum, APG Quarterly and the WorldVitalRecords newsletter. She is the author of the books, Putting the Pieces Together, Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra (Arcadia Publishing, 2007) and From the Family Kitchen (F + W Media, 2012).

Gena is the editor of the Utah Genealogical Association’s journal Crossroads. An instructor for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, Gena has written courses about social media and Google. She serves as Vice-President for the So. California Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, board member of the Utah Genealogical Association and is a Director for the California State Genealogical Alliance.

Her current research interests include social history, community, social history, community cookbooks, signature quilts and researching women’s lives.

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