If your answer is no, I’m not surprised. I had never heard of her until my friend Gabe enlightened me. Get this: first female Secretary of Labor, first female Cabinet member, hugely instrumental in so much of the New Deal that FDR gets credited for. I just finished reading a new biography about her, The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience, by Kirsten Downey. Highly recommended.

The Woman Behind the New Deal

The Woman Behind the New Deal

As Downey lays out in the compelling (in that I-just-have-to-keep-reading kind of way) prologue, FDR called Frances Perkins into a meeting to offer her the position of Secretary of Labor. She told him that she would accept the position only if he backed her up on achieving the following:

  1. A 40-hour workweek
  2. Minimum wage
  3. Worker’s compensation
  4. Unemployment compensation
  5. Federal law banning child labor
  6. Direct federal aid for unemployment
  7. Social Security
  8. Revitalized public employment service
  9. Health insurance

By the time she left office, items 1–8 were complete or in the works. She spearheaded programs that people today take for granted. She immensely improved the lives of working men and women in our country, in especially rough times. She even fought to allow more refugees from Germany into the United States as Hitler rose to power. All this in a culture that often dismissed her based on the fact that she was a woman. And a culture that barely remembers who she is now. Here’s to remembering, celebrating, spreading the word, and continuing the legacy.

Check out the Frances Perkins Center.