Brown alumna Janet Yellen first woman to serve as treasury secretary

Brown University alumna Janet Yellen was sworn in Tuesday, Jan. 26, as U.S. treasury secretary, becoming the first woman in the 232-year history of the U.S. Department of the Treasury to hold the position. Yellen was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris and will serve as a direct advisor to President Joseph Biden and his cabinet on economic issues.

She is the first woman to have held each of the top economic positions in federal government, having previously served as chair of the Federal Reserve and chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.

After Biden confirmed Yellen’s nomination as treasury secretary on Nov. 30, she took to Twitter with a message about her priorities in her first-ever tweet:

“We face great challenges as a country right now,” she wrote. “To recover, we must restore the American dream — a society where each person can rise to their potential and dream even bigger for their children. As Treasury Secretary, I will work every day towards rebuilding that dream for all.”

Brown University President Christina H. Paxson, an economist, lauded her nomination as it was reported in the days before Biden’s announcement.

“We are very proud that a Brown alumna is expected to be nominated to lead the Treasury Department in the new administration,” Paxson said at the time. “As a distinguished economist with a long and strong record of public service, Janet Yellen is superbly qualified for this position.”

Yellen earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Brown in 1967 after studies at Pembroke College and was awarded an honorary degree at the University’s 230th Commencement in 1998.

At her U.S. Senate confirmation hearing testimony, held virtually on Jan. 19, Yellen stressed her intent to help Americans recover from financial losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild the economy to make it more competitive and prosperous: “Without further action, we risk a longer, more painful recession now and longer-term scarring of the economy later,” she said.

The Senate confirmed Yellen by a vote of 84 to 15.

In 2017, Yellen was a featured speaker at the University’s 125 Years of Women at Brown Conference, where she outlined the crucial role of women in the U.S. economy and the barriers that continue to prevent many women from achieving full success and equality, to the detriment of the economy as a whole. After the address, Paxson bestowed upon Yellen the highest award a Brown president can give, the President’s Medal.

Paxson commended Yellen, “for your wise advancement and application of knowledge of markets, policymaking and economic behavior to the public good, and for the way you have in your life and work reflected the shared values of Brown University, the collaboration we encourage, the intellectual curiosity we foster and the impact we aspire to through our service.”

Yellen’s confirmation follows the appointment of Brown Class of 1986 Ph.D. graduate Maria Zuber as co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in the Biden administration.

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