The Enshrinement Of Frances Perkins

I guess I need to start this posting off with an apology: I’m sorry it took me this long to recognize what a progressive Frances Perkins was! If you somehow combined progressive and glass ceiling smasher is one word a picture of Perkins would accompany it in the dictionary.

Perkins’ first achievement that amazed me was when then Governor Al Smith of New York named her to the Industrial Commission of the State Of New York in 1919. Keep that year in mind. Women first received the right to vote in New York State in 1917 meaning the first gubernatorial election they could vote in was in 1918. Perkins, already a progressive activist, realized its importance (she had been working for it for years) and was instrumental in securing the women’s vote for Smith. Women did not get the right to vote in national elections until 1920, so Perkins was on a state industrial commission a year before she could vote for the country’s president. 1919 predates me but I know what it was like in the 1950’s and industrial issues were not exactly the turf of women!

When he took the presidency in 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt nominated Perkins as his Secretary of Labor. As the first woman ever to serve in a Presidential Cabinet she shattered another glass ceiling. Frances served in that post until after Roosevelt’s death leaving it in 1945. During that time she was either the primary architect or a major contributor to some of the most significant pieces of the New Deal. It is without any exaggeration to say that my life was and is immensely better because of the programs Perkins in part or in whole instituted or administered. America is very much a better country because of Frances Perkins!

She wrote the Social Security Act. That alone makes her one of the greatest progressives and greatest Americans of all time! She was instrumental in the creation and administration of such New Deal agencies as the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works Administration. They helped lift America out of the Great Depression by putting money in the pockets of out of work Americans and built much of America’s current infrastructure in the process. Roosevelt and Perkins may be dead but today many Americans will use something they built. Now that is return on investment!

She was instrumental in making the Industrial Recovery Act a reality. She was the author of the Fair Labor Standards Act which made the minimum wage, 40 hour work week and overtime pay the law of the land. It was through the efforts of Perkins, via New Deal legislation, that unemployment insurance, pensions and welfare became part of the social safety net.

Influence by wrongs she had seen in her life Perkins was a constant advocate for laws and regulations that restricted child labor and protected workers (especially women) in the workplace.

Perkins was strongly pro-labor but stood up to unions on the rare occasions it was necessary to do so in the greater interest of the nation.

It is without reservation and apologies for why it took this long that enshrines Frances Perkins in its Progressive Hall of Fame!


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