By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Janet Yellen -- a skilled economist and gifted communicator who likes to hike and cook -- made history on Monday as the U.S. Senate confirmed her to be the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve in its 100-year history.
Yellen, 67, the central bank's No. 2 since 2010, will take over as chair of the Fed after Ben Bernanke's term comes to a close at the end of this month. In doing so, she will take the reins of the world's largest economy and become the most powerful person in the world of finance.
"Her well-deserved ascension to the chair knocks a notable hole in the glass ceiling that has for far too long kept women from the most powerful jobs in the country," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement.
Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, a liberal advocacy group, told Reuters she hoped Yellen's confirmation would pave the way for other women to climb to the top rungs of finance.
"The financial industry is a place where women have been aggressively excluded from the top, top management," O'Neill said. "Janet Yellen can make a difference."
Senator Lisa Murkowski, one of the 11 Republicans who voted for Yellen, expressed the same hope.
"I wish that we had more senior women in these financial circles," she said. "And perhaps with her leadership that will act as a motivator to young women to get into the field."
In a 1995 interview, Yellen noted that women were under-represented at the highest levels of most groups and said she thought it would likely take a long time for that to change.
"I've had a lot of opportunities in my life," Yellen told the Minneapolis Fed. "I don't feel that I've faced discrimination. I've had every chance to succeed and more, and I think that's what all women should have."
"Anytime anyone is the first to achieve something of great import and notoriety -- that is a Big Deal, and in the case of Janet Yellen becoming the first female Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, it is HUGE," Ethan Siegal of the Washington Exchange, a private firm that tracks Washington for investors, wrote in an email to Reuters.
"The Federal Reserve Board has basically had to step in over the past 5 years to be the only economic policy makers to show-up 24/7/365, and act with an air of confidence and maturity which is what you want from your National Leaders," Siegal added.
Prior to becoming the Fed's vice chair, Yellen served as president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank. She also had served a stint on the Fed's board in the 1990s and was a top economic adviser to President Bill Clinton.
She is married and has an adult son, holds degrees from two Ivy League colleges -- Brown and Yale -- and taught at a third, Harvard.
She has written extensively on a wide variety of economic issues, particularly those involving the causes and implications of unemployment.
"The confirmation of Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve should be celebrated as a monumental step forward for our nation," said Neera Tanden, president of the liberal policy group Center for American Progress.
Yellen will take the helm at the Fed just as most of the central bank's other female Fed policymakers leave or prepare to depart: Fed Governor Elizabeth Duke left in August, Sarah Bloom Raskin is expected to vacate her board seat soon, and Cleveland Fed President Sandra Pianalto has announced plans to retire.
Those departures leave just one woman besides Yellen in the top ranks at the Fed: Esther George, the chief of the Kansas City Fed, whose opposition to the central bank's massive monetary stimulus puts her at odds with the incoming Fed chief.