Mount Holyoke Alumna Nominated to Be Labor Secretary

Elaine L. Chao '75 has been nominated to become U.S. secretary of labor.

On January 11, then President-elect George W. Bush announced that Elaine L. Chao '75, a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative, Washington-based think tank, was his choice to become labor secretary. If confirmed, Chao, former head of the Peace Corps and the United Way and deputy transportation secretary under former President Bush, would be the first Asian American woman to hold a Cabinet post and the second Mount Holyoke alumna to become labor secretary. Frances Perkins, a 1902 graduate of the College, was the first woman to hold a Cabinet post and served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's secretary of labor from 1933 to 1945.

Said Chao when asked by the CSJ to comment on her appointment, “I am very honored to be selected as the president's nominee for secretary of labor. I intend to do the best job I possibly can to improve the lives of working men and women in America as we enter the twenty-first century. I follow in the fine tradition of women who preceded me, such as Mount Holyoke's own Frances Perkins. And, of course, former Secretary of Labor Elizabeth Dole, who has always been a tremendous mentor and friend. Being the first Asian American woman to join the Cabinet, I am aware of the legacy I bear.”

As Peace Corps director (1991– 1992), Chao established the first outreach programs to the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. She went on to lead the United Way of America (1992–1996), where she is credited with helping restore the credibility and finances of the national charity following a major scandal. Chao also has served as chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission (1988–1989) and vice president of Bank America Capital Markets Group in San Francisco (1984–1986).

A native of Taiwan, Chao came to the United States at the age of eight with her parents and two younger sisters. While at Mount Holyoke, she majored in economics, edited the yearbook, and was a student representative to the economics department. She went on to earn a master's degree in business administration from Harvard Business School. Chao received the Alumnae Association's Mary Lyon Award for outstanding achievement in 1984. She is not the only member of her family in politics. Chao is married to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“Elaine Chao and her career of public service embody the commitment to positive engagement with the world that is one of the hallmarks of this institution, its students, and its graduates,” noted President Joanne Creighton. “The College community wishes her the very best as the nomination moves forward and would be delighted to see her continue the powerful legacy of Frances Perkins in this important post.”


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