When Frances Perkins was nominated by President Roosevelt (FDR) in 1933 to be the Secretary of Labor, she presented him with a list of programs for which she intended to fight: the 40-hour week, minimum wage, workers compensation, unemployment insurance, Social Security, a federal ban on child labor, and health insurance.
“Nothing like this has ever been done in the United States before,” she told FDR. “You know that, don’t you?” FDR agreed to back her initiatives and she accepted the nomination.
Perkins became the first female member of a presidential cabinet and got to work for the next 12 years creating many of the safety nets American citizens rely on today, including drafting the legislation that would become the Social Security Act of 1935. She famously said of her position, “I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten, plain common workingmen.”
Her drive stemmed from witnessing the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911 – she called it “the day the New Deal was born” – and her time teaching in Chicago at the outset of her career when she spent her ‘free time’ working at two settlement houses. She recalls “I had to do something about unnecessary hazards to life, unnecessary poverty. It was sort of up to me. This feeling … sprang out of a period of great philosophical confusion which overtakes all young people.”
Today, on International Women’s Day, we celebrate the person called ‘the woman behind the New Deal’ and ‘the mother of Social Security.’ Unfortunately, FDR is better-known for these accomplishments and the integral role of Frances Perkins is not nearly as prominent in our collective consciousness.
Here at NOSSCR, we’re honored to work hard at protecting and strengthening some of the social safety net that Frances Perkins valued so dearly. Further, we’re honored to use our platform to bring her name greater recognition during Women’s History Month – a month often leveraged to call attention to the women in history who were overshadowed by their male counterparts.
This month, take some time to learn more about Frances Perkins among other fascinating powerful women in American history. It’s the least we can do considering how much they have given to us.