Frances Perkins was born in Boston, Massachussetts on April 10, 1882. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College and later worked as a social worker in Worcester and a teacher in Chicago. While living in Chicago, Illinois she became involved in Hull House, a settlement house founded by Jane Addams. Later she moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where she worked closely with immigrant girls.
Frances earned her Masters Degree at Columbia University in 1910 before becoming the executive secretary of the National Consumers League (NCL). Her work with the NCL brought her into contact with New York politicians Robert Wagner and Alfred Smith. In 1919, Smith, the new governor of New York, appointed Frances to the Industrial Board. In 1924 she became Chairman of the Board. It was while serving this appointment that she found enough time in her schedule to obtrain a reduction in the work week for women to 54 hours.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt became governor of New York in 1929 he appointed Perkins as his Industrial Commissioner. Later, in 1933 after he had become President, Roosevelt selected Frances as his Secretary of Labor. She became the first woman in American history to hold a Cabinet post. Frances was a strong advocate of government involvement in the economy and played an important role in many aspects of the New Deal including the Civilian Conservation Corps, the National Labour Relations Act and the Social Security Act.
In 1938 Perkins persuaded the Congress to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act. The main purpose of the Act was to eliminate "labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standards of living necessary for health, efficiency and well-being of workers." To this day the Fair Labor Standards Act plays an active role in governing labor expectations and also prohibited child labour in many industries.
Frances remained as Secretary of Labor until the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. In 1946 she published her book, The Roosevelt I Knew.
Later, President Harry Truman appointed her to the United States Civil Service Commission. After leaving office in 1953 she taught at Cornell University. On May 14, 1965 Frances Perkins died in New York, but her legacy lives on to this day.
Copyright M. A. Webb, 2004-2006. All Rights Reserved
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