Archive for January 2023

Episode 222: Frances Perkins, Part Three

Posted 26 January 2023 by
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We left Frances as she ascended to a top spot as the Industrial Commissioner of the state of New York, under governor Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was going toe-to-toe in the press with President Herbert Hoover about the state of the economy. He said it was turning, she was proving he was lying. Pretty bold of her, non?

In this episode, we take Frances from New York State government to the US government when Roosevelt is elected President of the United States and appoints her as Secretary for the Department of Labor, the very first woman to hold a US cabinet position.

Frances in 1937. Library of Congress

She holds it for a very long time, even when she wants to let go, President Roosevelt won’t let her, he needs her! So Frances keeps working. In her position, she was able to fairly quickly orchestrate and legislate some of the greatest programs of Roosevelt’s New Deal, a platform that helped Americans through the Depression…and then she did it again as the world went to war. To list her accomplishments as Labor Secretary looks so casual but slowly read for the emphasis they deserve:

Civilain Conservation Corp

The Public Works Administration

National Recovery Administration

The Works Progress Administration

The U.S. Employment Service, Unemployment Insurance

Fair Labor Standards Act (set minimum and maximum hours, restricted child labor.)

The Bureau of Labor Standards

The National Labor Relations Act (Workers can organize in Unions and must have collective bargaining.)

National Labor Relations Act

(and the big one) the Social Security Act

Her departments were even responsible for the public relations campaign that brought Rosie the Riveter (as well as protections for women employees and a general sense of wartime patriotism) into common usage.

If you would like to see what remains in any place in the US from the work done through the New Deal, here is an interactive map!

She helped thousands of refugees during World War II avoid deportation, was instrumental in bringing a boatload of child refugees to the US and, worked any loophole she could find to save lives (and was brought up on impeachment charges for it.) (Oh, don’t fret, she was cleared because she had done nothing wrong.)

And with ever day she worked, Frances cracked a huge chunk in the glass ceiling for women.

Roosevelt signing the Social Security Act in 1935, where’s your pen, Frances?

We, of course, discuss her personal life: the challenges she had with Paul’s illness and the challenges of raising a daughter who lived in another state, and her special relationship with Mary Harriman Rumsey.

Mary Harriman Rumsey circa 1919, LOC
Frances and Eleanor Roosevelt at 50th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire. (No, we haven’t covered Eleanor, yet, it’s complicated.)

Even after finally retiring from US government work (after 18 years, 12 of those as Secretary of Labor) Frances worked in one job or another up until her death on May 14, 1965, at the age of 85. Frances is buried in the Perkins Family Cemetary in New Castle, Maine, near the Perkin’s Brickhouse home, the place that she retreated to for her entire life.

TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS

There are so many resources for Frances, we had to narrow them down to ones that we used and that were our favorites.

Books!

By Kirsten Downey
YA biography by Penny Colman
Compilation biography by Adam Cohen
Biography by Frances Perkins about her boss of 14 years
So adorable, for kids (obviously) Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Alexander Bye
Cute kids’ book, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Kristy Caldwell

Web!

The Frances Perkins Center in Damariscotta, Maine, was the Perkins family homestead and a great place to learn more about Frances and see the only consistent home in her life.

Columbia University has a plethora of articles and information about Frances including this ORAL HISTORY TRANSCRIPT of interviews with her in the 1950s.

Hear one of Frances’ speeches this one about the Triangle Factory Fire, and more links to information regarding it: FRANCES AND TRIANGLE FACTORY FIRE

Frances’ work for German Jewish refugees during WWII is remembered on the National Holocaust Memorial Museum website.

Moving Pictures!

Summoned: Frances Perkins and the General Welfare PBS Documentary, available on Amazon Prime

You can find Frances on YouTube, but here is a little sample of one of her speeches!

Finally: We have three Field Trips planned for this year, the first is coming in April, April 20-24 to be exact to Frances’ ol’ stomping grounds in Washington, D.C.! For more information and to sign up, visit Like Minds Travel! We will be having a Locals Meet-Up Dinner Cruise in D.C. on April 22nd, more details on that coming very soon! As for the other trips, the next to be announced will be Paris for October 1-9, and there will be one more in September, that location is still under wraps but let’s say both of us really, really wanted to go back.

Episode 221: Frances Perkins, Part Two

Posted 9 January 2023 by
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Frances and her tricorn hat du jour, in 1915. Library of Congress

We knew Frances’ life would take more than one episode, but we didn’t think that it would take three, boy were we wrong! Part Two begins just after Frances’ witnessing of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire and it’s impact on the deepening of her resolve to use her skills for the betterment of American citizens. She began in New York State government, first under Governor Al Smith and then Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She used her intelligence, honesty, and connections to help millions of New Yorkers, and setting an example for women along the way. We also explore her life as a married woman and as a mother, too, she wasn’t all business, you know!

First as a member of the New York State Industrial Commission, and then as the Commissioner of that 1800-employee department, Frances received a crash, hands-on course in workplace issues, specifically Labor v. Management disputes. She researched all the angles, faced a great deal of dangers, and created solutions (and laws to back them up) to make workplaces safe and compensation fair for employees. She also was able to focus a great deal of time on orchestrating legislation that gave women and children workers the safety nets that Unions were able to provide for men.

We take Frances through to her public battles with President Herbert Hoover as she saw the finances for the average family about to take a severe hit in the late 1920s, something he and his government denied. But, as we all know, it’s going to be really hard to deny what happened in that regard in 1929.

Like, impossible.

In Part Three, we’ll take her through the years when she was able to make significant and lasting changes on a federal level–changes still in place today. All media recommendations with be on the shownotes for that episode, although we do talk about this episode on Lillian Gilbreth from 2015 that you might want to listen to before then.