The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

“Nothing to Fear” — New book highlights Perkins’s role

In Biography on January 9, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Adam Cohen’s new book, Nothing to Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America, has been picking up great reviews. To read excerpts of the reviews, visit the book’s web page at Penguin Publishing.

The book shows the drama of the conflict among FDR’s advisors between fiscally conservative states’ rights advocates and the advisors pushing for social reforms. In this conflict, Cohen states — perhaps for the first time in print so categorically — that Frances Perkins was the victor.

Here’s a quote pointing out this viewpoint from Esquire Magazine’s review of the book:

Cohen focuses on a remarkable group of social reformers — a mystical Iowa editor, a union-hating son of an Arizona mining dynasty, assorted Ivy League eggheads — who stared down the conservative naysayers to execute these laws, but the standout is Frances Perkins. Before she became Roosevelt’s secretary of labor, she lived in Hell’s Kitchen settlement houses, where she saw women and children working 16-hour days in sweatshops and witnessed the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist fire. To her, we owe the fire escape, the eight-hour day, the five-day week, and Social Security — liberal innovations that helped save capitalism from itself, the last time liberals had to save it.

Author Adam Cohen himself touts Perkins’s influence in a short bio piece in the January/February issue of Harvard Magazine, “Brief life of an ardent New Dealer.” Here’s a quote:

Her role in the famous first 100 days has been underappreciated. She was the administration’s strongest advocate for a federal relief program to help people who were, literally, on the brink of starvation. Roosevelt charged her with finding a plan, and she brought him what became the Federal Emergency Relief Act, the first federal welfare program. But her greatest achievement was persuading Roosevelt to support large-scale public works. He was skeptical, but Perkins and several progressive senators convinced him such a program was necessary to provide work for the jobless and stimulate the economy. Before the Hundred Days ended, Roosevelt pushed a $3.3-billion program through Congress—as part of the National Industrial Recovery Act—that would evolve into larger efforts, notably the Works Progress Administration.

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