Dorcas R. Hardy: Social Security’s First Female Commissioner

March 8, 2021 • By

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Last Updated: March 8, 2021

Women pioneers have played a crucial role in leading and shaping the Social Security Administration over its eighty-five year history. From 1935, Social Security helped shatter the proverbial “glass ceiling” by hiring women in a variety of key positions, from staff workers to leadership. In honor of Women’s History Month 2021, I would like to share the inspiring story of Dorcas Hardy, Social Security’s first confirmed female Commissioner.

From the earliest days of her career, Dorcas championed for improved healthcare management. In 1973, then Governor Ronald Reagan rewarded her work when he appointed Dorcas the Assistant Secretary for Health at the California Health and Welfare Agency. Subsequently, on March 20, 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated Dorcas as the tenth Commissioner of Social Security (COSS). She became the first confirmed female Commissioner in agency history, serving from June 26, 1986 to July 31, 1989.

During her roughly one thousand days as COSS, she was a trailblazer, who spearheaded several significant initiatives, that included the development and launch of the federal government’s first national 1-800 number, the Enumeration at Birth program, Computer Systems Modernization, the agency’s first strategic plan, and the Personal Earnings and Benefits Estimate Statement (PEBES).

The 1-800 number improved customer service by offering beneficiaries an alternative to visiting field offices when seeking general information. The Enumeration at Birth program provided new parents with the convenience to apply for a Social Security Number for their newborn from the comfort of the hospital. With the PEBES program, people could now have their projected benefits mailed to their home.

During her tenure as Commissioner, Dorcas increased public outreach, encouraged computer innovation, and strived to improve customer service to millions of beneficiaries. She was truly a pioneer in Social Security history. She believed strongly in efficiency in government, and said, “The business of government should be businesslike.”

Dorcas stayed very active after her service as COSS. She co-authored a book with her father on improving Social Security, hosted a weekly cable television program, ran a consulting firm, and continued her lifelong work with the Girl Scouts of America. From 2002 to 2016, she served on the Social Security Advisory Board, becoming its longest serving member.

Dorcas Hardy passed away at the age of 73 on November 28, 2019, at her home in Spotsylvania, Virginia. Up to her final few years, she remained deeply devoted to public service and helping others. Her legacy is the millions of lives she touched and improved with her steadfast and pioneering efforts in social insurance and government reform.

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About the Author

Andrew Saul, Commissioner, Social Security Administration

Commissioner of Social Security Administration (June 17, 2019 - July 9, 2021)


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  3. Bob W.

    *** HELP PLEASE ***
    I am posting this message on behalf of a friend who recently had major surgery for cancer last week. He applied for his Medicare online on January 16, 2021. He was eligible effective March 1, 2021, as he turns 65 this month.

    His application is still in pending status since January 19, 2021, because of a Social Security computer system “glitch” which has red flagged him for what they say looked like suspicious earnings–but they are legitimate earnings from the year 2010, and a very small amount. My friend has been told by every SSA customer service representation who pulls up his record that the problem is that every time they try to submit his application again, the computer rejects it over and over again.

    The investigative agent assigned to his case has told him that a different department has to fix the error in the computer system, but they don’t answer their phones. She has sent them emails. She had promised to call him back when the problem was fixed, but now he just gets her voicemail box.

    He is in a DESPERATE SITUATION NOW as his medical insurance from his employer ends this month. He needs a lot of extensive follow-up care following the major surgery he had last week, and he will have no medical coverage for it, unless Social Security can fix this problem in time for his Part A and B and drug plan to start April 1st.

    Can anyone help please? It was my idea to post this plea for him, so if anyone can message me back with a contact person who can intervene on his behalf? I don’t want to post his name or social security number. Thank you if you can help.

    • Vonda

      Hi Bob, thanks for using our blog. We are very sorry to hear about the difficulties your friend is experiencing with Social Security. Please have your friend continue to work with the local Social Security office and ask to speak to a supervisor indicating the dire need situation. Look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal. We hope this information helps.

  4. Dora

    Gracias por tanta informacion destacada, y variada, muchas gracias por mandarme las ultimas noticias, y siempre estan muy atentos,
    Que tengan muy buenos dias!!
    Me gustaria que sigan enviandome noticias.

  5. Melissa

    Thank you for bringing this up. This is very important in our time. I also found some interesting information about social norms here –

  6. About C.

    Thank you.

  7. Anthony G.

    Congratulations Ms. D.Hardy on your appointment. Best Anthony Gray.

  8. Pamela S.

    Online registration by phone to start receiving my SS retirement benefits went quite well. However, there are 2 ways you can improve this process:

    1. I did not notice if an app was available, but a mobile app would certainly help if the print size on the site could be larger.

    2. I was about finished with my application when I received a notice that the site would be closing down for maintenance. Advance notice about the site closing time at the beginning of the process would help. I did have time to finish, but I was a bit worried. I had tried to apply unsuccessfully before–which takes you back to my first request.

    Thanks very much,
    Pam Sanders

    • Vonda

      Hi Pamela, thank you for using our blog and offering up some suggestions. You can submit feedback by visiting our Contact Social Security page. Once there, select the “Email Us” link. This will take you to the “Email A Question to our Support Team” form, where you can complete and submit a compliment, complaint, or suggestion. We hope this helps.

  9. Deborah B.

    I am thankful for this woman, that allowed my children to have their own social security numbers when they were born.

  10. Kendra C.

    Women pioneers have passed a legacy that builds future longevity .

    • Daniel V.

      Women should stay home to do the cooling!

      • Marie D.


        • Vonda

          Hi Marie, thanks for using our blog. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), not Social Security, issues the Economic Income Payments. Social Security cannot answer EIP questions about your specific situation. Check out our Social Security and Coronavirus web page for more details. We hope this helps.

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