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  1. FDA History Exhibits

Jane Henney: Physician and Commissioner of Food and Drugs

Jane Henney (245px)Jane Henney is a Hoosier, born and raised in the smallest city in Indiana (512 residents), Woodburn. She received her B.A. from Manchester College in North Manchester. Influenced by her mother who had not been able to go to college, and who slipped her $1000 at “just the right moment,” Jane completed medical school at Indiana University.

Following graduation, she recalls the challenges of being one of only two female physicians during her internship at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Minneapolis. She was an intern and another physician, also named Jane, was a resident. The male physicians had their own “on-call room” with beds, but the two women slept on gurneys in the hall when they could grab a nap. One night, there were no men on call and they decided to sleep in the men’s quarters. When they were discovered the next morning, one of the men asked the other Jane “if they had liked the pictures (centerfolds) in the room?”   She quipped in return that they “had thought they were mirrors."  The problem was solved by yet another “Jane." Sister Jane, upon hearing that they were sleeping in the men’s quarters, quickly gave them their own “on-call” room -- next to the hospital chapel!

She came to Washington D.C. in 1976 where she started as a senior investigator at the National Cancer Institute which was developing new therapies for women with breast cancer. After serving as Deputy Director at NCI, she and her husband went to positions at the University of Kansas and they moved to Kansas City. It was there that FDA Commissioner David Kessler visited her in 1991 offering her a position as his Deputy Commissioner for Operations. She says he “hooked” her with the breadth of the agency’s activities which she discovered first hand as she dealt with issues such as the safety of the blood supply, implementation of user fees, the new food label and the safety of breast implants. She particularly enjoyed working with a team of women for the first time in her career, leading her to conclude that “women’s leadership creates a shift in tone, behavior, and thinking." In 1993, however, she was lured from FDA to accept a new position as Vice President of Health Sciences at the University of New Mexico.

Jane Henney (2)
Washington Post photo of President’s Clinton with Jane Henney, his appointment as FDA Commissioner and the agency’s first female Commissioner.
She returned to FDA in January 1999 after being nominated as the first female Commissioner of FDA by President Bill Clinton and became the first FDA Commissioner to go through the grueling Senate confirmation process. Supporters of the nomination maintained that given both her medical acumen and administrative talent and experience, she was the most qualified Commissioner FDA had ever had. FDA’s own makeup was changing as well, and in 2000, she was able to report to a Women’s Health Month audience that 53% of FDA’s 8800 employees were women including 2 Center Directors, the Chief Counsel,  several deputy and assistant commissioners, and 2 regional food and drug directors. Her philosophy, as she shared it with the audience that day, was that “you need grit and humor to get through life." Dr. Henney returned to the University of New Mexico in 2001 but retains an active interest in FDA’s work.
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