About Frances Perkins

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July 6, 2016
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F rances Perkins (1880– 1965) was an American sociologist and workers-rights advocate who served as the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945. As a loyal supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt, she helped pull the labor movement into the New Deal coalition. Perkins played a key role in the cabinet by writing New Deal legislation, including minimum-wage laws. Her most important contribution, however, came in 1934 as chairwoman of the President's Committee on Economic Security (CES). She worked tirelessly for the U.S. adoption of social security, unemployment insurance, federal laws regulating child labor, and adoption of the federal minimum wage.

She remained in office for the entirety of Roosevelt’s presidency, becoming not only the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet, but the longest serving secretary in that position. She also became the first woman to enter the presidential line of succession.

Following her government service career and after the death of her husband, 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 at age 85.

For the purposes of this story, I have fictionalized various elements of Mrs. Perkins life, such as her lecture at University of Minnesota in 1947 at which Eliza first meets her, and the exact timing of her work at Cornell. The date of her death, while approximately correct, is also inaccurate in this novel. Finally, for many years while at Cornell, she lived at the Telluride House, an intellectual community of students and faculty, primarily men.

For more reading on Frances Perkins read – “The Woman Behind the New Deal,” by Kristin Downey


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