Bertha Sheppard Adkins

(1906 - 1983)


Bertha Sheppard Adkins was born in Salisbury, Maryland.  She was an educator, political activist, public servant, and a community leader.  Adkins graduated from the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.  She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wellesley College and a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University.  Adkins also received honorary degrees from Hood, Salisbury State, Western Maryland, Wheaton and Wilson Colleges.  She began her career as Dean of Women at Western Maryland College, and later served as Dean of Residence at Bradford Junior College in Massachusetts.

In 1941, Adkins returned to Salisbury and began her political career by volunteering her services to the local Republican Party.  Her leadership abilities were soon recognized among the men and women of the Republican Party at the state and national levels.  In recognition of her abilities, she was made Maryland's Republican National Committee head in 1948.  Ten years later, she was appointed Executive Director of the Women's Division of the Republican National Committee.  In 1952, she became Assistant Chairman of the National Committee.  During this time, she instituted a series of "Breakfasts with the President" and set an example for a series of annual national conferences of Republican women.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Bertha Adkins the Under-Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in 1958.  She was the first woman to hold this position.  As Under-Secretary, she directed the organization of the White House Conference on Children and Youth and the first White House Conference on Aging in 1961.  Ten years later, at the request of the Nixon administration, she was called upon to organize the second White House Conference on Aging.

Adkins became knowledgeable about the problems and programs relating to the elderly.  She became a leading authority in the field and was appointed Executive Vice Chair of the Older Americans Advisory Committee.  She was later appointed the first chair of the Federal Council on Aging by the President of the United States.  As chair, she organized public hearings on national policy concerns for older women.  Her work in this area set the tone for the work of the Council.

Adkins always identified herself as a Marylander.  She brought credit to her state in all that she accomplished.

Biography courtesy of the Maryland Commission for Women, 1989.

© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2001