Frances Perkins


Frances Perkins

Infobox US Cabinet official
name=Frances Coralie Perkins


order=4th
title=United States Secretary of Labor
term_start=1933
president=Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
term_end=1945
predecessor=William N. Doak
successor=Lewis B. Schwellenbach
birth_date=birth date|1882|4|10|mf=y
birth_place=Boston, Massachusetts
death_date=death date and age|1965|5|14|1882|4|10|mf=y
death_place=New York
party=Democrat

Frances Coralie Perkins (born Fanny Coralie Perkins, lived April 10 1882 – May 14 1965) was the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, and the first woman ever appointed to the US Cabinet. As a loyal supporter of her friend Franklin D. Roosevelt, she helped pull the labor movement into the New Deal coalition. She, and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, were the only original members of Roosevelt's cabinet who remained in offices for his entire Presidency.

History

Perkins was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Frederick W. Perkins, the owner of a stationer's business, and Susan Bean Perkins, but spent much of her childhood in Worcester. [She was christened Fannie Coralie Perkins but later changed her name to Frances. Frances Perkins Collection. Mt Holyoke College Archives [http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/mountholyoke/mshm139.html] ] She attended the Ferry Hall School in Illinois before graduating from Mount Holyoke College in 1902, and from Columbia University in 1910 with a master's degree in sociology. In between, she held a variety of teaching positions and volunteered at settlement houses, including Hull House.

In 1910 she came to statewide prominence as head of the New York Consumers League, in which position she lobbied with vigor for better working hours and conditions. The next year, she witnessed the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, a pivotal event in her life.

In 1913 Frances Perkins married Paul Caldwell Wilson. She kept her maiden name, defending in court her right to do so. Prior to going to Washington, Perkins held various positions in New York State government. In 1918, Perkins accepted Governor Al Smith's offer to join the New York State Industrial Commission, becoming its first ever female member. She became chairwoman of the commission in 1926.

In 1929, the new governor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, appointed Perkins the state's industrial commissioner. Having earned the cooperation and respect of various political factions, Perkins ably helped put New York in the forefront of progressive reform. She expanded factory investigations, reduced the workweek for women to 48 hours and championed minimum wage and unemployment insurance laws.

In 1933, Roosevelt appointed Perkins as Secretary of the Department of Labor, a position she held for twelve years, longer than any other Secretary of Labor and making her the first woman to hold a cabinet position in the United States (thus becoming the first woman to enter the presidential line of succession). She and Harold L. Ickes were the only two secretaries to hold their posts throughout the entire FDR presidency.

President Roosevelt almost always supported the goals and programs of Secretary Perkins. In an administration filled with compromise, the President's support for the agenda of Frances Perkins was unusually constant.

As Secretary of Labor, Perkins played a key role writing New Deal legislation, including minimum-wage laws. However, her most important contribution came in 1934 as chairwoman of the President's Committee on Economic Security. In this post, she was involved in all aspects of the reports and hearings that ultimately resulted in the Social Security Act of 1935.

In 1939, she came under fire from some members of Congress for refusing to deport the communist head of the west coast International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Harry Bridges. Bridges was ultimately vindicated by the Supreme Court.

Smith, a machine politician from the old school, was an early social reformer with whom Frances Perkins made common cause. At Smith's funeral in 1944 two of his former Tammany Hall political cronies were overheard to speculate on why Smith had become a social crusader. One of them summed the matter up this way: "I'll tell you. Al Smith read a book. That book was a person, and her name was Frances Perkins. She told him all these things, and he believed her."

Following the end of her tenure as Secretary of Labor in 1945, Perkins was asked by President Harry Truman to serve on the United States Civil Service Commission, which she did until 1952, when her husband died and she resigned from federal service.

In 1946, Perkins published a detailed memoir of her years working with Franklin Roosevelt, called "The Roosevelt I Knew". The book is clearly biased in favor of a president she called a friend; but it is also a subtle character study and is frequently recommended by scholars.who

Perkins explained in her memoir some of the means she had used to earn the President's remarkable support. She described a process of preparing the President for a position taken by boiling down the costs and benefits to a one or two-page summary, with the political opposition clearly marked for him in advance.

Perkins believed that most of those who felt the President had unjustly dropped support for their programs had not outlined what they needed simply enough; or had not identified the political opposition to their measure.

Following her government service career, Perkins remained active as a teacher and lecturer at the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University until her death in 1965, aged 83.

The headquarters building of the United States Department of Labor in Washington, DC is named in her honor.

Lead character Baby tells Johnny Castel her real name is Frances, in honor of Frances Perkins in the movie "Dirty Dancing".

Notes

References

* [http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1153/is_n6_v112/ai_7847159 Berg, Gordon. "Frances Perkins and the Flowering of Economic and Social Policies." "Monthly Labor Review." 112:6 (June 1989).]
*Keller, Emily. "Frances Perkins: First Woman Cabinet Member" Greensboro: Morgan Reynolds Publishing, 2006. ISBN 978193179891
*Martin, George Whitney. "Madam Secretary: Frances Perkins" New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1976. ISBN 0395242932
*Pasachoff, Naomi. "Frances Perkins: Champion of the New Deal" New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0195122224
*Perkins, Frances. "The Roosevelt I Knew" New York: Penguin Group, 1946. ISBN 0670607371

External links

* [http://www.FrancesPerkinsCenter.org Frances Perkins Center] A proposed center to honor her memory and carry on her work at her family homstead on the coast of Maine.
* [http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780385513654 The Woman Behind the New Deal] A biography by Kirstin Downey, release date: March 2009
* [http://www.vineyardvideo.org/francesperkins.shtml Vineyard Video] "You May Call Her Madame Secretary" is a film production depicting Frances Perkins' life and her career.
* [http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/mountholyoke/mshm139.html Frances Perkins Collection. Mt Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections]
* [http://c250.columbia.edu/c250_celebrates/your_columbians/frances_perkins.html Columbia biography]
* [http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/programs/fp/frances.shtml Mount Holyoke biography]
* [http://www.greatwomen.org/women.php?action=viewone&id=119 National Women's Hall of Fame]
* [http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/abouteleanor/q-and-a/glossary/perkins-frances.htm Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project: Frances Perkins]
* [http://www.dol.gov/asp/programs/history/perkins.htm U.S. Department of Labor Biography]
* [http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/digital/collections/nny/perkinsf/index.html Notable New Yorkers - Frances Perkins] Biography, photographs, and interviews of Frances Perkins from the Notable New Yorkers collection of the Oral History Research Office at Columbia University.


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