Frances Perkins

Frances Perkins was born in Boston in 1882 and would go on to blaze a trail for women in politics. At a time when the main role of women was to stay in the home, she was able to not only get an education but to put it to use to help other people. She would go on to hold the distinction of being the first woman to be appointed to the U.S. cabinet.

As a child there was a big focus in her family on hard work and education, her father taught her the Greek language as well as classical literature, and Frances would go on to attend the almost all-male high school in Worcester, Massachusetts. Unlike most girls who were lucky enough to get this far in education, Frances continued on by studying chemistry and physics at Mount Holyoke College. Not content to live the life of her contemporaries she moved to Illinois following her graduation in 1902.

While living in Chicago she began volunteering at Chicago Commons and Hull House which helped the cities unemployed and poorest citizens. In 1910 she was named the head of the New York Consumers League which represented employees and lobbied on their behalf for better working conditions. Seeing firsthand the conditions that people were being forced to work in, she joined the Committee on Safety of the City of New York.

The various lobbying positions that she held over the years earned her the attention of the political world and in 1929 she was appointed the Industrial Commissioner of New York by the Governor at the time, Franklin D. Roosevelt. When he was elected President he named her Secretary of Labour in an historic appointment – she became the first woman ever appointed to the U.S. cabinet. This platform allowed her to continue her work of helping employees – she worked to improve their working conditions as well as setting a minimum wage. She also played a key role in Roosevelt’s New Deal which was his answer to helping the United States recover from the economic turmoil of the Great Depression.

Frances served in the cabinet until 1945, making her the longest serving Secretary of Labour. She next worked in the U.S. Civil Service Commission until the death of her husband in 1952. She died from a stroke in 1965.

-Michelle O’Brien
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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