She was born on this very day, 133 years ago, but history seems to have forgotten poor Frances Perkins. She was just one of the most influential women of the 20th century. If they knew their US History, the Right Wing Religious Conservatives heads would explode if they understood the story of the life of this accomplished woman. She is a Republican’s worst nightmare.
Perkins was named Secretary of Labor by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. She was the first female cabinet secretary; she dedicated her life to improving the lives of American working-class people even as she faced challenging & complex family concerns of her own. Perkins’ ideals would become the building blocks for the most important social welfare legislation in the history of the USA: unemployment compensation, child labor laws, & the 40 hour work week.
She started her job as secretary at the apex of the Great Depression. Perkins pushed for massive public works projects that created millions of jobs for unemployed workers. She reengaged the labor movement, boosting living standards across the country. As head of the Immigration Service, she fought to bring European refugees to the safety in USA. Her greatest triumph was helping creating Social Security.
She accomplished all these progressive programs for FDR’s administration while confronting personal issues including a frequently institutionalized husband with severe psychiatric problems & her only child’s Manic Depression.
All the while, Perkins was in a 20 year deeply secret love relationship with Mary Harriman Rumsey (sister of Averell Harriman). The pair lived together in DC, hosting parties for the famous & powerful. It makes me wonder if the couple played softball with Eleanor Roosevelt & Lorena Hickok. Rumsey died in a riding accident in 1934. Perkins grieved by throwing herself into work on her progressive reforms.
Perkins is depicted in a WPA mural displayed in the Maine Department of Labor headquarters, the native state of both of her parents. In March, 2011, Maine's Republican governor, Paul LePage, ordered the removal of the mural. A spokesperson for the governor said they received complaints about the mural from state business officials & from an anonymous source charging that it was reminiscent of “communist North Korea where they use these murals to brainwash the masses.” LePage also ordered the name of conference room in the State Department of Labor to be changed. The room had been named after Perkins.