Who was Frances Perkins?
Frances Perkins was born in 1880, only 15 years after the civil war ended and lived to see astronauts explore space. Her career as a labor reformist predated World War I and lasted through World War II.
She came from a New England middle-class family but became acutely aware of the poverty that was pervasive among immigrants who worked long hours for little pay in unsafe factories. As a young woman she volunteered at settlement houses and lobbied for labor laws. Her work caught the attention of two New York governors, Al Smith who appointed her to the Industrial Commission and Franklin Roosevelt who appointed her as head of the New York Labor Department. As President, Roosevelt appointed her as Secretary of Labor. She was the first woman in the history of the United States to be appointed to the Presidential Cabinet. In this position she became an architect of the New Deal programs. We can thank Frances Perkins for maximum work hours and minimum wage laws, the abolishment of child labor, and the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively. Because of her persistence and leadership, the Social Security Act was signed into law in 1935. She resigned as Secretary of Labor in 1945, but continued working until her death at the age of 85 as a U.S. Civil Service Commissioner (1946-1952) and a professor at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.