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June 1989, Vol. 112, No. 6
Frances Perkins and the flowering of socioeconomic policies
In late February 1933, Frances Perkins received a call to visit President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt at his home in New York City. She anticipated that he would invite her to become Secretary of Labor. Before she accepted, she had to know if he would support her ideas. Those ideas have changed and improved the quality of life of all Americans.
Before Frances Perkins would accept the Cabinet appointment, she told President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "I don't want to say yes to you unless you know what I'd like to do and are willing to have me go ahead and try."1
She then read Roosevelt her list. It contained much of what would become the New Deal's most important social welfare and labor legislation: direct Federal aid to the States for unemployment relief, public works projects, maximum hours of work, minimum wages, child labor laws, unemployment insurance, social security, and a revitalized public employment service. "Are you sure you want these things done?" she asked. "Because you don't want me for Secretary of Labor if you don't."
Roosevelt never hesitated. He was convinced that Perkins was the most qualified person for the job. "Yes," he said. "I'll back you." With that, Perkins accepted the post and served as Secretary of Labor during the 12 years of the Roosevelt Administration, 1933-45. She was the first woman to serve as a Cabinet member, and her tenure was longer than any Secretary of Labor.
Who was this woman in whom Roosevelt had such confidence? How did she become an expert in the field of labor affairs? To answer these questions brings into focus the life of one of America's most remarkable women. It is a dedicated life filled with hard work and perseverance.
This excerpt is from an article published in the June 1989 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 Earnings data exclude premium pay for overtime and for work on weekends, holidays, and late shifts. Cost-of-living pay increases (but not bonuses) were included as part of the workers' pay. Excluded were performance bonuses and lump-sum payments of the type negotiated in the auto and aerospace industries, as well as profit-sharing payments, attendance bonuses, Christmas or yearend bonuses, and other nonproduction bonuses.
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