She Advised Presidents: Anna Rosenberg

Suspected of being a spy

Anna Rosenberg was a public official and businesswoman who served as advisor to two U.S. presidents and became the first woman to receive the Medal of Freedom.

Born to a Jewish family in Budapest in 1901, Anna immigrated to New York when she was 11. From a young age, she was fascinated by the workings of government. As a teenager, she sold Liberty Bonds and served as a volunteer nurse. When she was 20, Anna married Julius Rosenberg, a rug merchant. The next year their son Thomas was born. 

In the early 1922, Anna made a fiery speech advocating female suffrage. Soon after, she started managing political campaigns for New York City alderman and assemblyman. She opened a public relations office and by the early 1930’s was a highly-regarded expert on human resources. Her remarkable success came from a combination of brains, hard work, and sheer force of personality. 

Anna was busy in the 1930’s. She managed US congressional campaigns, and directed a branch of the New Deal administration. She was part of the White House inner circle for two administrations, as a top advisor to both President Roosevelt and President Truman. In many high-level meetings she attended, Anna was the only woman present.  She was tiny in size, but her brash personality ensured her voice got heard. She was a trusted advisor to New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and New York Governor Herbert Lehman. 

During World War II, Anna served as President Roosevelt’s personal representative in Europe. She was able to study the military situation first-hand, and she advised the White House about personnel and other issues. She recruited many workers for the Manhattan Project to create the atom bomb. On October 29, 1945, President Truman awarded her the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. She later won the Congressional Medal of Honor and the United States Medal for Merit. 

In 1950, George Marshall appointed Anna to serve as Assistant Secretary of Defense. The nomination was challenged during the McCarthy hearings, when Anna was accused of un-American activity. Investigators found no evidence against her, and the Anti-Defamation League protested her treatment, claiming that Anna’s accusers were “a rogue’s gallery of antisemites” that included a Ku Klux Klan leader. The Senate confirmed her nomination. Serving in the highest military position held by a woman at that time, Anna coordinated the department’s manpower and hiring. 

Anna succeeded despite pervasive sexism in society. Her biggest problems didn’t come from the military but from the media. News stories about Anna invariably focused on her appearance rather than her accomplishments, thus minimizing her importance to the country. 

Throughout her life, Anna was involved in Jewish charities and causes. She served as a director of the Joint Distribution Committee, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies and the United Palestine Appeal. Anna managed the Hakoah soccer team, the first all-Jewish team to play in the United States.

Anna returned to her PR firm in 1953 and worked there for thirty years, alongside her son Thomas. She died in New York in 1983. 

For serving her country at the highest levels, and forging a path for women in military administration, we honor Anna Rosenberg as this week’s Thursday Hero.

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