HAMPTON — Did you know that Frances Perkins was the first woman to serve in a cabinet position for a U.S. president? Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Perkins Secretary of Labor in 1933, and it would be 20 years before another woman would again be appointed to a presidential cabinet.
Join the Hampton Historical Society’s History Book Group on Sunday, June 24, at 4 p.m. to discuss “The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience,” by Kristin Downey.
“Perkins was decades, if not generations ahead of her time,” said Barbara Tosiano, who leads the book group. “She was not an elected official, but was a very influential woman in politics. She stood up for what she believed in, even though some of her causes may not have been popular.”
Frances Perkins attended Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and graduated in 1902, making her a college educated woman, which was unusual for that time.
She would live in Chicago and New York, becoming a social worker, suffrage leader and labor organizer. Witnessing the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911 in New York City where 146 workers died led her to campaign for workplace safety standards.
Perkins aligned with powerful people who became her mentors including Al Smith and FDR when they were governors of New York. When FDR appointed her as Labor Secretary the department was very powerful and Perkins had jurisdiction over Social Security, Immigration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Public Works, Unions, Labor Laws and Border Patrol.
Among her accomplishments during her 12-year tenure as Labor Secretary were instituting a 40-hour workweek, minimum wage, workers compensation and the Social Security program, and eradicating child labor.
Perkins worked into her 80s, then as a lecturer of labor law at Cornell University.
Tosiano prepares a snack that is significant to the discussion and on June 24 it will be a dessert made with blueberries, because Perkins was a New Englander from a family of New Englanders who were proud of their roots, according to Tosiano.
All are welcome to attend the discussion at the Tuck Museum at 40 Park Avenue in Hampton.