Biographical Sketch

Jeanette Fichman Reibman (1915-2006) was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana on August 18, 1915 to Meir and Pearl (Schwartz) Fichman. After earning an A.B. degree in Political Science with minors in English and Economics from Hunter College in 1937, Reibman continued her education at the Indiana University School of Law. Upon completion of her L.L.B. degree in 1940, Reibman accepted a position as an attorney for the U.S. War Department and U.S. War Production Board and Tax Amortization in Washington, D.C. In 1943, she married attorney Nathan L. Reibman and subsequently moved to Easton, Pennsylvania to raise a family. She quickly became known for her community service, and in 1954, the American Association of University Women asked Reibman to run for the Easton Area School Board. After a discussion with her husband, Reibman became convinced she could do more to improve education on the state level than on a local school board. Thus, Jeanette Reibman embarked on her first political campaign and ran for the Pennsylvania General Assembly in Harrisburg.

Reibman’s success in that election of 1954 launched her 37-year legislative career. Defeated in her bid for re-election at the end of her first term in 1956, she tried again in 1958 and won. From 1959-1966, she served continuously in the House of Representatives, during which she chaired both Education and Township Committees and was appointed by Governor David Lawrence to serve on the Lawrence Commission. Formed to pursue excellence in education, the Lawrence Commission provided recommendations that later influenced much of the education legislation sponsored by Reibman in Harrisburg.

In 1966 Reibman became the first woman elected to the State Senate in Pennsylvania. She held this office for a total of seven four-year terms, representing the 18th Senatorial District of Northampton and Monroe Counties until her retirement in 1994. Throughout her career in the State Senate, Reibman served as a member of the Education Committee and consistently supported legislation that reformed the educational system in Pennsylvania. Reibman is credited with development of community colleges and the state university system, vocational-technical schools, distance learning, and special education programs. She was also instrumental in the creation of the State System of Higher Education, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, and the Pennsylvania Council of Arts. As a result of Reibman legislation, state higher education facilities and scholarships were improved during her tenure, as well as teacher education and special education for gifted students.

Environmental, economic, and human rights issues were also on the long list of Reibman’s legislative initiatives. As a dedicated environmentalist, she fought for the protection and management of drinking water supply and quality, created a state fund to cleanup hazardous waste sites, developed municipal waste programs, and regulated the use and development of state land. As an advocate for state economic development programs, she sponsored legislation creating the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority. Her efforts to pass the State Equal Rights Amendment, create both the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the Bureau of Consumer Protection, and to liberalize workman’s and unemployment compensation standards are also noteworthy. Reibman’s legislation also made significant improvements to the care of senior citizens, as well as the physically and mentally impaired of the state. Other areas of her legislative focus pertain to women and children, including issues such as women in the work place, abortion, and child care.

Throughout her tenure in Harrisburg, Reibman received numerous appointments in her areas of legislative interest. Besides those already noted, they include: Pennsylvania Commission, Education of the States, Policy Committee Chair; Resolution Committee, Executive Committee and Steering Committee; Advanced Leadership Program Services Committee; Governor’s Conference on Library and Information Services Planning Committee; State Board of Education; Committee on Arts, Tourism and Cultural Resources of the Assembly on the Legislature of the National Conference of State Legislatures; Local Government Commission; Advisory Committee on Probation; Senate Gubernatorial Inaugural Committee; state Senate and House of Representatives Judiciary Committee; Senate Minority Caucus Administrator; Pennsylvania Commission for Women; and the Pennsylvania Planning Committee for International Women’s Year.

Senator Reibman received many honors for her service to the state of Pennsylvania. She was awarded honorary degrees from the following institutions: Lafayette College (1969), Wilson College (1974), Cedar Crest College (1977), Lehigh University (1986), and Moravian College (1990). In 1970 Reibman became the first woman to serve on the Lafayette College Board of Trustees; she became a Trustee Emerita in 1985. Reibman is also an honorary member of the National Honorary Education Fraternities Delta Kappa Gamma and Phi Delta Kappa as well as the Law Fraternity of Phi Alpha Delta. In 1991 she received the Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals Excellence in Education Award and in 1982 became the First Distinguished Friend of Public Higher Education for the Association of Pennsylvania State Colleges and University Faculties. Other honors include the American School counselor Association Legislator of the Year Award (1986), the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition Legislator of the Year Award (1987), and the President’s Award of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association for preserving access to the courts and upholding the rights of individuals (1990).

In 1994, at the age of 79, Jeanette Reibman announced her retirement, ending her long and distinguished public career. She died on March 11, 2006, at the age of 90 in Allentown, Pennsylvania.