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Longest-serving federal employee Lillie Steinhorn retires

May 3, 2000
Lillie Steinhorn
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Lillie Steinhorn, who holds the national record for being the longest employed federal employee, is a narrator in Weaving Women's Words: Baltimore Stories. Photo by Joan Roth.

When Lillie Steinhorn retired from the Social Security Administration on May 3, 2000, she ended a 65-year career as a federal employee. Her longevity at the Social Security Administration set a record, making her the longest-serving federal employee. She began on April 28, 1935, as a card puncher in what was then called the Bureau of Federal Old Age Benefits. She remained at Social Security for her entire career, through decades of changes and modernization. From card punching, Steinhorn moved into positions as a dictating machine operator, a statistician, and a research analyst. After working in Washington, DC, for the first few years, she returned to Baltimore, where she had been born and raised. After fifty years with the SSA, Steinhorn explained to an employee magazine that she intended to stay, saying, "I love the people I work with, and it gives me a good feeling to know that I play a small part in helping serve the public."

Steinhorn joined the civil service in the midst of the Great Depression, at a time when the federal government was expanding rapidly in an effort to provide work for millions of unemployed Americans and to revive the economy. It was also a time when thousands of women joined the workforce, often when their husbands and fathers could not find work. During the war years that followed, thousands more women streamed into jobs vacated by men who had gone overseas as soldiers. When the men returned, many of these women were pushed out of their wartime jobs. Steinhorn faced this problem when a supervisor tried to demote her to make room for a returning veteran. Demonstrating her characteristic tenacity, Steinhorn protested and was allowed to keep her job. By the time she retired in 2000, women's presence in the workforce was an accepted part of modern American life.

Outside of her work for the government, Steinhorn was active in B'nai B'rith Women, including in that organization's Dolls for Democracy program. The post-war program created dolls in the likenesses of famous people from American history, for use in elementary school classrooms. A second set of dolls representing different ethnic backgrounds was meant to teach tolerance. Steinhorn also likes to travel, and over the years has visited China, India, Scandinavia, and Costa Rica, among other places. Steinhorn served as one of twenty-nine narrators in the Jewish Women's Archive's Weaving Women's Words community oral history project in Baltimore. She died June 15, 2009.

To learn more about Lillie Steinhorn, visit Weaving Women's Words.

Sources:Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, p. 165; jwa.org/exhibits/baltimore/steinhorn.html; www.ssa.gov/history/lsoral.html; www.ssa.gov/history/oasis/julyaugust1985.pdf; Baltimore Sun, Obituary.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Longest-serving federal employee Lillie Steinhorn retires." (Viewed on April 25, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/may/03/2000/lillie-steinhorn>.