Mae Schnurr, Commissioner
Mae Schnurr, Carlsbad Caverns, c.1934

Mae Schnurr, (acting, times vary through 1936) Commissioner,
Bureau of Reclamation, 1930-1936.

Mae Schnurr accepted her first position with the Federal government as a stenographer in 1915. She began her long career with Reclamation as a clerk in October 1923. She soon became the Secretary to the Commissioner, then Elwood Mead. Over time he entrusted more and more responsibility to Schnurr as she proved her outstanding capabilities. In 1929 Mead's request to create a new position of Assistant to the Commissioner was approved and Schnurr was given the post. She was cited as the first woman to be given so high an administrative post in Interior. In February 1930, Mead designated Schnurr as Acting Commissioner whenever he or the Assistant Commissioner were absent. As far as is known, this was the first time that a woman had acted as head of a major Federal Bureau normally directed by a man. Following Mead's death in 1936, Schnurr's title and responsibilities gradually diminished. She eventually transferred to the Secretary of the Interior's office where she became Assistant to the Secretary. She retired from the Federal service in 1944.

A biography of Ms. Schnurr by Reclamation historian Chrisine Pfaff has been published at "Mae Schnurr: A Woman's Rise to Prominence." Prologue 29 (Fall 1997): 233-42.  This article won the Society for History in the Federal Government's Charles Thompson Award for History in the Federal Government.

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Last Updated: 7/28/15