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A woman could head FBI — just 40 years after women allowed to become special agents

What would J. Edgar Hoover think? For the first time in the 40 years since the FBI admitted women into the rank of special agents, a woman may be among the contenders to head up the agency.

Lisa Monaco, 44, is said to be on the short list for FBI director. She was named President Barack Obama’s Counterterrorism Advisor in January, replacing John Brennan who became head of the CIA, after she served as assistant attorney general overseeing the National Security Division at the Department of Justice.

It wasn’t until May 16, 1972 — two weeks after Hoover’s death — that the FBI announced women would be considered for the position of special agent. The first two women, a former nun and a former Marine, Joanne Pierce Misko and Susan Roley Malone, were sworn in that summer and completed the arduous 14-week training program. It was the physical rigors of the job that had served as an excuse for keeping women out of the bureau.

Since then, female agents have attained plenty of “firsts,” according to a series of stories “celebrating women special agents” on the FBI’s Web site in recognition of the 40th anniversary of women joining the FBI. In 1978, Special Agent Christine Karpoch (Jung) became the first female firearms instructor; she also shot a perfect score on the FBI’s Practical Pistol Range. Sadly, the first female agent, Robin Ahrens, was killed in 1985. In 2001, Special Agent Kathleen McChesney became executive assistant director.

More than 2,600 of the bureau’s agents are women — that’s almost 20 percent of all agents — and women head up 11 of the FBI’s 56 field offices.

Hollywood hasn’t ignored the role of women in the FBI, either. Think of Jodie Foster playing Special Agent Clarice Starling in “Silence of the Lambs” or Gillian Anderson as Special Agent Dana Scully on the sci-fi TV show “The X-Files” and later Poppy Montgomery playing Special Agent Samantha “Sam” Spade on the series “Without a Trace.”

In an interview last summer with CBS, Jan Fedarcyk, who was retiring from her position as assistant director of the bureau and head of the New York office, said she hoped the appointment of a female director of the FBI would come “hopefully in my lifetime.”

Maybe it will.

Diana Reese is a freelance journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.