Janet L. Norwood was born in Newark, New Jersey on December 11, 1923. She was an undergraduate at Douglass College of Rutgers University from 1941 to 1945 and went on to do graduate studies in economics at Tufts University, from which she received M.A. (1946) and Ph.D (1949) degrees. She taught briefly at Wellesley College in 1948 and 1949. Several years later, in 1963, she joined the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and remained a member of its staff for 28 years. From 1979 to 1991 she headed the agency as Commissioner of Labor Statistics, serving under both Democratic and Republican presidents. On her retirement from BLS in 1991, a U.S. senator characterized her as a "national treasure." She is now a Senior Fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington.
Her contributions to BLS and to the federal Government more broadly have been widely recognized by the government, by professional societies, and by universities. For example, in 1979 she received the Philip Arnow award, the highest award given by the Department of Labor, the Julius Shishkin Award from the Washington Statistical Society in 1986 and was chosen as the 1990 Statistician of the Year by the Chicago Chapter of the American Statistical Association. Norwood has also received honorary degrees from Carnegie Mellon University and Florida International University.
Norwood was President of the American Statistical Association in 1989, and has served as a member of the board of directors of several professional associations. She was chair of the Board of Trustees of the National Institute of Statistical Sciences in 1992 and 1993 and is a member of the Committee on National Statistics at the National Research Council, and the Editorial Advisory Board of Chance.
The following conversation took place on the deck of her summer home in Liberty, Maine in 1993.