The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Archive for February, 2009|Monthly archive page

Praise for new biography of Frances Perkins

In Biography on February 25, 2009 at 11:01 am

Cover shot of The Woman Behind the New Deal

Cover shot of The Woman Behind the New Deal

The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’S Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience by Kirstin Downey will be available on March 3rd. Kirstin is a board member of the Frances Perkins Center and lent us a copy of the book in galleys. It’s an incredibly thorough and perceptive portrait of an amazing woman. Frances Perkins didn’t just have to contend with the misogyny of the times, she had to deal with a marriage besieged by mental illness as well. Intelligent, complicated, forceful — Frances Perkins never courted the press and thus her legacy has been neglected. How ironic that former Washington Post reporter Kirstin Downey is the person who brings her to life, at a time when the New Deal is on everyone’s mind.

Published by Gay Talese at Random House, the book has already garnered some very positive reviews. Here is a sampling from the book’s web site:

“No individual–not even Eleanor Roosevelt–exerted more influence over the formulation of FDR’s New Deal or did more to implement the programs than Frances Perkins (1880-1965). As former Washington Post staff writer Downey makes plain in this deeply researched biography, the first female Cabinet member was the primary shaper of such new concepts as unemployment insurance, the 40-hour work week and–last but not least–Social Security. At a time when the United States stands at the brink of another economic meltdown calling for sweeping federal interventions, Downey provides not only a superb rendering of history but also a large dose of inspiration drawn from Perkins’s clearheaded, decisive work with FDR to solve urgent problems diligently and to succeed in the face of what seemed insurmountable odds. Confronting family issues-a frequently institutionalized husband with severe psychiatric problems; a deeply secret lesbian relationship with Mary Harriman Rumsey (sister of Averell Harriman); a daughter from whom she was often estranged-Perkins nevertheless exhibited tireless grace under pressure again and again, always rising to the occasion in the name of every and any progressive cause.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Kirstin Downey gives Frances Perkins the biography she deserves, the story of a fierce advocate who put people first, a public servant who was actually worthy of the name, and a bracing reminder of what inspired government can do. Perkins ignored the glass ceiling and changed America. This book is a joy!”
–Nick Taylor, author of American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work

“For all of her apparent modesty and fierce sense of privacy, Frances Perkins wanted to be known by posterity for her contributions to FDR and his New Deal, particularly Social Security. An investigative reporter, Kirstin Downey has uncovered Frances Perkins’s extraordinary strengths in shaping and securing the central domestic accomplishments of the New Dealers. Despite continuing impediments, Perkins, a social worker, successfully broke into a man’s world and was a major player for all 12 years of FDR’s administration. Downey deftly links the Progressive movement of the early 1900’s with the reforms Perkins helped FDR achieve, particularly in his first two terms. In Downey’s skilled hands, Frances Perkins at last emerges as a pivotal figure in the most transformative twelve years of 20th century American history.”
–Christopher N. Breiseth, President and CEO of The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute

You can pre-order the book now directly from Random House, Amazon, or your favorite local book store. To find out where you can hear Kirstin Downey talk about her book, visit her web site,


Solis confirmed as secretary of labor

In Political world on February 25, 2009 at 8:36 am

Finally! The vote in the Senate was 80 – 17 late yesterday. It will be interesting to see what influence the long-awaited labor secretary wields in President Obama’s cabinet. Hilda Solis has been compared to Frances Perkins, who played a huge part in the New Deal. With Solis’s pro-worker perspective, an influential role for her would mean good news for American working families.

Solis vote today at 2:00?

In Biography, Political world on February 12, 2009 at 8:25 am

Secretary of Labor-nominee Rep. Hilda Solis cleared the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions late yesterday (hooray!) and may come up for confirmation today. Says blogger Meteor Blades of DailyKos:

Many observers have compared Solis with the first woman who ever served in a U.S. Cabinet, Frances Perkins, the liberal Labor Secretary in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. Perkins is often credited with having pushed FDR to the left on many issues.

There’s some concern that an anonymous Republican senator could still put a hold on Solis’s nomination. Or that the Republicans could filibuster it. But in reality, both of these tactics are dead ends — the Obama administration favors passing the Employee Free Choice Act and ANYONE they nominate will also support it. At some point, the anti-unionists will have to admit defeat.

NOTE: The Frances Perkins Center is waiting to finalize a date for an event at the Department of Labor honoring Secretary Perkins’s contributions to workers’ lives until the Senate confirms a new secretary of labor. We’re hopeful about that 2:00 PM vote!

What did “socialism” (the WPA) do for us?

In New Deal Legislation on February 6, 2009 at 7:51 am has a slideshow illustrating some of the achievements of the New Deal. (Click the photo below to be taken to the slideshow.)

One of the slides showing WPA projects.

One of the slides showing WPA projects.

It’s the Department of Labor, not the Department of Management

In Political world on February 5, 2009 at 12:04 pm

The Progress Report has an excellent discussion of the delayed confirmation of Labor Secretary-nominee Hilda Solis. An excerpt:

Obama has made clear that his Labor Department won’t be anything like the one under Bush. “Remember, this is supposed to be the Department of Labor, not the Department of Management,” he has stated. Elaine Chao — Bush’s Secretary of Labor who was confirmed in just 18 days — made it through all eight years of the Bush administration, causing such a drop in morale at the Labor Department that staffers threw a “good-riddance party” to cheer her departure. She left behind a “deeply troubled department” that “spent eight years attacking workers’ rights, strong workplace health and safety rules, and unions while they carried the water for Big Business.” Chao, of course, was also a stalwart opponent of the Employee Free Choice Act. Under Solis, the Department of Labor will once again defend the rights of workers. As a state senator, Solis authored the first environmental justice law in the nation, and she has since said she is committed to creating green jobs. She also told the Senate that she would address the retirement security crisis; ensure that workplaces are safe, healthy, and fair; and protect workers from job discrimination.

AP says Solis could be voted on tomorrow

In Political world on February 3, 2009 at 5:30 pm

From today’s International Herald Tribune in an article titled, Solis expected to get committee vote this week:

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is set to vote on Solis’ nomination as early as Wednesday, and a full Senate vote is expected soon after, said Anthony Coley, a spokesman for committee Chairman Edward Kennedy.