Rose from an impoverished childhood to become
She was a professor at Duke University, eventually rising to the post of Vice President of the school.
She displayed the first sign of her trademark bluntness and wit in response to a question about a lack of qualified women for her cabinet post - she responded saying there are plenty of qualified women, they just had to be found.
She grew up in Lynch, Kentucky, a coal-mining community in the heart of Appalachia, where her father worked as a coal-mine operator.
Before her, only three other women served as cabinet secretaries, the first one during the Franklin Roosevelt administration.