Author Archive - The History Chicks

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.


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


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


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.

Episode 219: Frances Perkins, Part One

Posted 16 December 2022 by
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Frances Perkins led a very long, very active, and very productive life as a social worker and workers’ rights advocate, and as the first woman ever appointed to a United States Federal Cabinet position. One episode just won’t cover it all, and, trust us, you need to hear it all!

Fannie Coralie Perkins was born on April, 10, 1880 in Boston, Massachusetts. She was the oldest of two daughters of Frederick and Susan Perkins. In this episode we’ll take you first through her early life, mostly based in Worcester (it’s pronounce “wus-ter,” trust us) Massachusetts and at the Perkins family homestead in Newcastle, Maine, where her very wise and influential Grandma Cynthia lived.

Next we talk about her college years at Mount Holyoke College where she really had the ultimate college experience. Educated, driven, and brave, she went forth to a life as a social worker…only to be turned away. She wasn’t done learning yet!

We’ll take you through her teaching days in Chicago where her mind was blown by all the amazing work done at Chicago Commons and Hull House, two settlement houses, where she volunteered her time and cut her social working teeth. We’ll follow her to her first paid social work gigs in Philidelphia and New York City, her post-graduate education, her first experience in worker’s rights advocacy and up to the tragedy that not only changed her life, but laser focused her work.

We leave you as she has built her experience to know what she doesn’t know, know how to learn what she doesn’t know, and who to work with to turn her ideas for social change into law. She’s fueled and empowered to go ahead and build her vision of a better country, enacting reforms that affect each of us, even today.

Time Travel With The History Chicks

We referenced several former podcast subjects during this, but the two episodes that we would like to point you to right now are our coverage of Jane Addams, and The Bowery Boys episode and article about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.

The rest of the links and media recommendations with be on the shownotes for Part Two of Frances’ story! JK, look for them in the shownotes for Part Three!

Episode 217: Pocahontas, Revisited

Posted 23 November 2022 by
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The only image of her done in her lifetime and this was toward the end of that. Marketing materials of the Virginia Company

In honor of both Native American Heritage Month and American Thanksgiving, we are taking a look back at the life of this woman who did save lives, but not the one the (very popular animated) movie wants you to think.
For the shownotes to this episode, please click on over to 2017 HERE
For information and activities focused on Native American Heritage Month, here is a great one.

Episode 217: Ida Lewis

Posted 14 November 2022 by
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Ida Lewis circa 1870 via wikicommons

Ida Lewis was a heroine…but she was also a sister, daughter, friend, and dedicated lighthouse keeper, a job where she was uncommonly dedicated and uniquely qualified in the best way imaginable.


Episode 215: New England Field Trip Travelogue

Posted 2 November 2022 by
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In October of 2022, 44 travelers (and a flock of Seagulls) set off to head back in time to autumnal New England. These are their stories (and mini-history lessons, heartwarming life moments, trivia, and societal observations)

The leaves were peaking in golds and reds; the air was crisp (or cold if you were from a warmer climate) when Boston and Newport opened their doors for us. From our intro dinner at America’s oldest tavern, Bell in Hand, to a sailboat cruise of Newport Harbor, to our final dinner together at Ristorante Fiore in Boston we gobbled up history with each step.


Episode 214: Nell Gwynn

Posted 6 October 2022 by
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Nell, circa 1675 by Peter Lely

First off, please know that this episode contains a very loud LITTLE EARS warning, so we do ask that adults preview it to decide if it’s appropriate for the kids in their life. Nell was a woman who grew up in poverty, learned how to charm people from a very young age, and found success in the culture in which she lived as an actress and a mistress to King Charles II of England. (There is a lot of sex and quotes have words in them that we don’t ordinarily use but it’s impossible to tell her story without these elements.) (more…)

BONUS! A Conversation with Liza Powel O’Brien

Posted 28 September 2022 by
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Our new podcast girlfriend and host of Significant Others Podcast, Liza Powel O’Brien (Conan is her husband) (Yes, that Conan O’Brien.)


This isn’t a new thing for us, we just thought that it would be fun to have a conversation with another female history podcaster, and Liza graciously accepted. It’s not an interview, we don’t do those, it’s more like listening to the conversation at the next table in a coffee shop. We talk podcasting and interests and…well, just give a listen. (more…)

Queen Elizabeth II: The Crown

Posted 12 September 2022 by
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circa 1959

When Queen Elizabeth II passed away on September 8, 2022, her reign was in its 71st year. That alone makes her a woman we would love to cover! Alas, we don’t spotlight subjects who are still with us, and, even then, we like to give them a respectful mourning period after they pass away. This allows time for her legacy to become established–that’s when we like to dive into her life. (more…)

Episode 211: Mary Edwards Walker

Posted 5 September 2022 by
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Doctor Walker, Post Civil War, admire her Medal of Honor and ponder why she is STILL THE ONLY WOMAN TO RECIEVE IT! cc wikicommons


Doctor Walker’s very practical but oft-ridiculed outfit. Circa 1876 wikicommons


As she aged, Dr. Walker was even more stylish than ever before circa 1911 wikicommons

Time Travel With The History Chicks

****Shownotes are under construction, please come back later for all of our recommendations!****