Patricia Roberts Harris

Patricia Roberts Harris

Patricia Roberts Harris (1924-85), former cabinet official and the only woman to have headed three federal departments, joined the faculty of The George Washington University Law School in the fall of 1983. Harris graduated from the GW National Law Center at the head of her class in 1960, receiving her JD with honors.

“She is truly one of the most distinguished graduates of the school and one of the most distinguished women in public life,” said National Law Center Dean Jerome A. Barron in announcing the appointment. “She brings great understanding of government, as well as experience in it, to the teaching of public law. 

She will be an excellent model for law students of what a lawyer can do to make a better society.”Harris, who taught Public and Constitutional law, served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1977 to 1979, and was secretary of Health, Education and Welfare from August 1979 to May 1980.

When a separate Department of Education was formed in May 1980, she became secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, remaining in that post until January 1981.

Harris’ government service began in 1960, when she joined the Department of Justice as a trial attorney following her admission to the District of Columbia bar. She returned to Howard University in 1961, where she had earned her B.A. summa cum laude in 1945, as dean of students and lecturer in law. Subsequently she became associate professor, professor and dean of the law school at Howard. She returned to government in 1965 when she was appointed U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, serving until 1967. She also served as an alternate delegate to the 21st and 22nd General Assemblies of the United Nations.

Harris was a partner with the Washington and New York law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Kampelman from 170 to 1977. She has served as a director of the Chase Manhattan Bank, Scott Paper Co. and IBM, and she is a trustee of the 20th Century Fund. A member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Order of the Coif, Harris received an Alumni Achievement Award from GW in 1965. She was the first African-American woman to hold a cabinet post or to be a U.S. ambassador.

“We are delighted that the Honorable Patricia Roberts Harris has chosen to join our faculty,” President Elliott commented on her appointment. “She returns to the campus where she earned honors as a brilliant student and now will bring unusual experience from the legal profession and public service for the benefit of the entire institution.”

In 2000, Harris was honored with a commemorative stamp in the U.S. Postal Service’s Black Heritage series saluting outstanding African-Americans.