Frances Perkins

Lived:April 10, 1880—May 14, 1965 (aged 85)
Career:U.S. secretary of labor, 1933-1945
Education:B.A., Mount Holyoke College
Master's, Columbia University

Frances Perkins served as the U.S. secretary of labor from 1933-1945 and was the principal architect of the New Deal. She was the first woman to hold a U.S. cabinet position and the first woman to enter the presidential line of succession. As secretary of labor, she was largely responsible for the adoption of social security, unemployment insurance, federal laws regulating child labor and the federal minimum wage.

Perkins was born on April 10, 1880, in Boston, Massachusetts. She earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Mount Holyoke College in 1902. After working for several years as a social worker and teacher, she returned to school and earned a master's degree in sociology and economics from Columbia University in 1910.

As executive secretary of the New York Consumers League in 1910, she lobbied for better working hours and conditions. After witnessing the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, Perkins left her office at the New York Consumers League and become the executive secretary for the Committee on Safety of the City of New York. In 1919, she was appointed to the Industrial Commission of the State of New York by Governor Alfred Smith, and in 1929 she was appointed as the first commissioner of the New York State Department of Labor by Governor Franklin Roosevelt.

In 1933, Perkins was appointed as U.S. secretary of labor by President Roosevelt. She played a key role in many aspects of the New Deal legislation, including the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration and Federal Works Agency, the labor portion of the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Social Security Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. She formed governmental policy for working with labor unions and helped to alleviate strikes through the United States Conciliation Service.

Following her tenure as secretary of labor, Perkins served on the United States Civil Service Commission from 1945-1952. Perkins remained active as a teacher and lecturer at the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University until her death on May 14, 1965.


Frances Perkins Center. (n.d.). Frances Perkins: Chronology of a long and productive life. Retrieved on May 14, 2020 from

Frances Perkins Center. (n.d.). Her life: The woman behind the New Deal. Retrieved on May 14, 2020 from

National Park Service. (2019 July 19). Frances Perkins. Retrieved on May 14, 2020, from