Patricia Roberts Harris was a trail blazer. She was the first African American woman to be appointed as a United States Ambassador and the first African-American woman to serve in the cabinet of a president of the United States. Patricia was born on May 31, 1924 in Mattoon, Illinois in Coles County. While she was in grade school, her family moved to Chicago where she graduated from Englewood High School in 1941. During World War II she studied at Howard University in Washington, DC and graduated summa cum laude in 1945. Back in Illinois, she attended post-graduate studies at the University of Chicago. In the 1950s, Patrcia worked as Director of the Chicago YWCA. She married William Beasley Harris in 1955 and divided her time between Illinois and Washington, DC. She graduated first in her class from the George Washington University Law School in 1960 at the age of 35.
Patricia was very active in national Democratic politics and was the first black female to serve on a national party committee and the first black female to participate in a presidential nomination. In 1964 Patricia started to work as Associate Dean of Students and a teacher of law at Howard University. But in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Patricia as U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg. President Jimmy Carter appointed Patricia as the first black female to serve in a cabinet in 1977 when she was named Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. She would serve in two other cabinet-level positions under Carter as well. By 1980, Patricia was back in the University world teaching law as a professor at the George Washington University National Law Center. Her husband William Harris died in 1984 and Patricia passed away on March 25, 1985 at the age of 60. In the 1990s, a United States commemorative stamp in the Black Heritage Series, pictured above, was issued in her honor by the U.S. Postal Service.