Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Patricia R. Harris (1980–1981): Secretary of Health and Human Services

Patricia Roberts Harris was born on May 31, 1924, in Mattoon, Illinois, and earned a bachelor's degree in political science and economics in 1945 from Howard University.

Following her undergraduate studies, Harris worked for the Chicago Young Women's Christian Association (1946-1949). She also became assistant director of the American Council for Human Rights (1949-1953) and executive director of Delta Sigma Theta (1953-1959). She then earned a law degree and worked for the U.S. Department of Justice's criminal division.

Thereafter, Harris was a member of the Howard University Law School faculty from 1961 to 1965 and from 1967 to 1970. In the interim, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed her ambassador to Luxembourg (1965-1967). Following her time at Howard, Harris practiced law privately for several years (1970-1977).

In the Carter administration, Harris served as secretary of housing and urban development (1977-1979), secretary of health, education and welfare (1979-1980), and then secretary of health and human services (1980-1981). Patricia Harris died on March 23, 1985.