Frances Perkins: First Woman Cabinet member
80 years ago today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt notified the U.S. Senate on March 4, 1933, that he had nominated Frances Perkins of New York to be Secretary of Labor. A lifelong labor reformer, she rose to prominence following the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. She was confirmed as Secretary of Labor and became the first woman appointed to a Cabinet position. She was the longest serving Labor secretary, serving for 12 years between 1933 and 1945. She was also the first woman to enter the Presidential Line of Succession.
Keep reading at Prologue: A Factory Fire and Frances Perkins
On August 14, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act.
Later that day, the Washington Post proclaimed that the Social Security Act was the “New Deal’s Most Important Act…Its importance cannot be exaggerated …because this legislation eventually will affect the lives of every man, woman, and child in the country.”
This poster was distributed from November 1936- July 1937 during the initial issuance of Social Security numbers through U.S. post offices and with the help of labor unions.
Harry S. Truman taking the oath of office at the White House after the death of President Roosevelt. 4/12/1945
Offering his consolation to the widowed Eleanor Roosevelt, Vice President Truman asked the now-former First Lady, “Is there anything that I can do for you?”
ER responded, “Is there anything that we can do for you? For you are the one who in trouble now.”
-from the Truman Library
"This is the first instance of a woman being appointed to a Cabinet position."
First woman Cabinet member
President Franklin D. Roosevelt notified the U.S. Senate on March 4, 1933, that he had nominated Frances Perkins of New York to be Secretary of Labor. She was confirmed in this position and became the first woman appointed to a Cabinet position. She was the longest serving Labor secretary, serving for 12 years between 1933 and 1945. She was also the first woman to enter the Presidential Line of Succession.
Nomination of Frances Perkins as Secretary of Labor, 03/04/1933
Minimum wage, no child labor, and a 40-hour work week
The Fair Labor Standards Act became effective on October 24, 1938. After a long Congressional battle, the Act established a minimum wage of 25 cents, prohibited child labor, and capped the maximum work week at 44 hours.
Secretary of Labor Francis Perkins fought for the Act to be passed despite strong opposition that such labor regulations would be unconstitutional. Six years earlier, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had nominated her for the position, making her the first woman to serve on the U.S. Cabinet. Perkins accepted the position on the condition that she could pursue fair labor initiatives.
Perkins had long been an advocate for workers rights; as an undergraduate she visited factories, interviewed workers and took notes on their wages, hours, and working conditions and learned the cold-hard facts of industrial life. A pivotal event in her life was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that occurred in New York City on March 25, 1911. Frances Perkins was 30 years old at the time and happened to stumble upon the horrific scene. The factory employed hundreds of workers, mostly young and impoverished women. As a result of poor safety regulations, such as faulty fire escapes and locked doors, the workers could not escape the scorching fire. One by one desperate women jumped to their deaths from the upper floors of the factory. 146 workers died that day. Perkins immediately took action and sought ways to prevent future workplace tragedies.
Frances Perkins would have been famous simply by being the first woman to serve in a president’s cabinet; however the work of Frances Perkins lives on in our unemployment insurance, minimum wage, shorter work week and federal laws regulating child labor and worker’s safety.
Photo: Fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Manhattan, NY.
This weekend will be the 76th anniversary of the Social Security Act
On August 14, 1935 legislators and advisors crowded into the White House Cabinet Room to witness the signing of the Social Security Act. News photographers and film crews recorded the moment for history as FDR put his signature on the bill. Standing directly behind the President was the person most responsible for it - Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. The headline in that day’s Washington Post read “New Deal’s Most Important Act.”