Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Anthony J. Celebrezze (1963–1965): Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare

Anthony Joseph Celebrezze was born on September 4, 1910, in Anzi, Italy. His family moved to the United States when he was two, and he grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended John Carroll University. In order to finish paying tuition toward his law degree at Ohio Northern Law School, he did manual labor for the New York Central Railroad.

Celebrezze first entered politics in 1950 when he joined the Ohio State Senate. While serving in that body, he became a close ally of Governor Frank J. Lausche. In 1953, Celebrezze won the Democratic mayoral primary for Cleveland in an upset and went on to win the general election in November. Celebrezze suffered his only major political defeat in 1958 when he lost the Ohio gubernatorial primary. He was a popular mayor, nevertheless, and won reelection five more times.

In 1962, President Kennedy wanted an Italian-American to serve in his cabinet and chose Celebrezze to replace Abraham A. Ribicoff as secretary of health, education, and welfare (HEW). With the help of HEW undersecretary Wilbur J. Cohen and education commissioner Francis Keppel, Celebrezze reorganized what Ribicoff had called an "unmanageable" department.

One of his most important achievements was moving the public assistance and child health and welfare functions from the Social Security Administration. These programs were then transfered to a new Welfare Administration. Under Celebrezze's watch, HEW was granted power to deny funds for any federal program, to any state, or institutions which practiced racial segregation. Celebrezze continued to serve as head of HEW under President Lyndon B. Johnson until August 1965 when Johnson appointed him to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Celebrezze passed away on October 29, 1998.