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 to 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. She and Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes were the only members of the Roosevelt cabinet to remain in office for his entire presidency.

Perkins was born on April 10, 1880, in Boston, Massachusetts. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in physics from Mount Holyoke College in 1902 and a master's degree in sociology and economics from Columbia University in 1910. As head 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 inaugural 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, a position she held longer than any other secretary of labor. 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 to 1952, when her husband died and she resigned from federal service. 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.