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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Like Jane Addams, Frances was also highlighted in the LGBTQ Legacy Project, Chicago, along with several other former subjects!
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.