Bertha Sheppard Adkins '28

Alumnae Achievement Awards 1979

Bertha Sheppard Adkins ’28
Undersecretary of Health, Education, and Welfare


Bertha Sheppard Adkins was a public servant and a political activist, primarily for the elderly and aging programs. Originally from Salisbury, Maryland, Adkins graduated from Wellesley in 1928 with a degree in music and received a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1943.

While working as the dean of women at Western Maryland College in Westminster, Maryland, and subsequently as the dean of residence at Bradford Junior College in Bradford, Massachusetts, Adkins became increasingly involved in community affairs and developed an interest in politics. She volunteered with the local Republican Party while living in Maryland in 1946 and was appointed as the Republican National Committeewoman for Maryland in 1948, a position that she held for ten years. During that time, Adkins was also appointed as the executive director of the women’s division of the Republican National Committee and as the assistant chairman of the RNC. She established a series of “Breakfasts with the President” and annual national conferences for Republican women. Although she was a lifelong Republican, Adkins worked closely with women leaders of the Democratic Party and encouraged cooperation between the two groups.

In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Adkins as the undersecretary of health, education and welfare. She was the first woman to hold this position. Two important programs which she organized were the White House Conference on Children and Youth in 1960 and the first White House Conference on Aging in 1961. Adkins temporarily left federal service in 1961 to fulfill the position of the head of the Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia. There, she worked to strengthen academic programs until her retirement in 1967.

Adkins returned to federal service after her retirement, as an advocate for the elderly and for aging programs. In 1971, President Nixon appointed Adkins to organize the second White House Conference on Aging. She held several positions on committees for older Americans and social security, and in 1974, she was appointed as the chairwoman of the new Federal Council on Aging. She organized public hearings on national policy concerns for older women. Adkins held a position on this council until she retired completely in 1978.

After a full life of service to the field of education and to the elderly, Bertha Adkins died at the age of 76 on January 14, 1983.


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