The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

The mystery of the Frances Perkins desk

In Biography, Events on March 31, 2009 at 7:55 am
Frances Perkins's desk at the Woman's National Democratic Club.

Frances Perkins's desk at the Woman's National Democratic Club.

The Woman’s National Democratic Club, where we’re holding our Launch Party for the Frances Perkins Center on April 21st (see “Join us April 21st in Washington, DC“), has a desk that once belonged to Secretary Perkins, but they don’t know the provenance. In addition, a member of the club mistakenly had the desk “refinished” at some point in the past. (As someone said, that person obviously hadn’t watched “Antiques Roadshow”!)

However, I had the opportunity to see the original official portrait of Secretary Perkins, which is currently hung in Secretary Solis’s outer office. I think the desk in the portrait looks a lot like the desk at the WNDC. Take a look at this rather dark photo of the portrait. What do you think? Same desk?

Official portrait of Frances Perkins

Official portrait of Frances Perkins

Come view the desk at our party on April 21st and see for yourself!

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Interview with author of The Woman Behind the New Deal

In Biography on March 31, 2009 at 7:27 am

NPR logoClick here to listen to Jacki Lyden’s interview of Kirstin Downey from All Things Considered on March 28th.

Kirstin Downey and the AFL-CIO celebrate Frances Perkins

In Events on March 31, 2009 at 7:17 am

This short video, produced by the Machinists News Network, captures the presentation last Wednesday at the AFL-CIO.

Join us April 21st in Washington, DC

In Events, Fundraising, The Center on March 29, 2009 at 11:55 am

We have two exciting events taking place in Washington on April 21st.

I. Celebrating Frances Perkins and Her Commitment to Social Justice

The Dept. of Labor's official portrait of Frances Perkins

The Dept. of Labor's official portrait of Frances Perkins

When: Tuesday, April 21st, 3:30 – 5:00 PM

Where: The Great Hall of the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Frances Perkins Building, 200 Constitution Ave. (Please use the Visitors’ Entrance off 3rd Avenue.)

Who & What: A program of remembrance and celebration, with speakers including:

  • Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis
  • Kirstin Downey, award-winning journalist, former Washington Post reporter, and author of The Woman Behind the New Deal.
  • Dr. Christopher Breiseth, president-emeritus of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and personal friend of Secretary Perkins
  • Frances Perkins’s grandson, Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall, whose words will be accompanied by photos of the Perkins home.

This program is free and open to the public. For more information or to RSVP, email the Center at info@FrancesPerkinsCenter.org or call 207-208-8955. (Please note, to expedite security check-in, be sure to RSVP in order to have your name included on the admittance list.)

II. Reception and “DC Launch Party” for the Frances Perkins Center

Later that evening, the celebration moves to the Woman’s National Democratic Club, where Frances Perkins was once a member.

When: Tuesday, April 21st, from 6:00 – 7:30 PM

Where: The Woman’s National Democratic Club, 1526 New Hampshire Avenue NW (Just off DuPont Circle)

Who & What: There will be food and drinks, a chance to buy an autographed copy of Kirstin Downey’s new book, and the opportunity to talk with other people who also care passionately about the legacy of Frances Perkins—all while supporting the Frances Perkins Center.

Suggested donation is $50. For more information or to RSVP, email the Center at info@FrancesPerkinsCenter.org or call 207-208-8955.

Interview on Maine Public Radio

In Biography, The Center on March 25, 2009 at 9:39 pm
MPBN logo

MPBN logo

Last week, Keith Shortall visited The Brick House and interviewed Tomlin Coggeshall (Frances Perkins’s grandson) and me. Here’s the result, which played tonight on “Maine Things Considered”.

You can go to MPBN.net to read the transcript and download the interview.

Frances Perkins and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

In Biography on March 25, 2009 at 9:26 pm

I’m in Washington this week and looking forward to a presentation this noon at the AFL-CIO with Perkins biographer Kirstin Downey and AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney.

Kirstin Downey speaking at the AFL-CIO.

Kirstin Downey speaking at the AFL-CIO.

The event commemorates the 98th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which Perkins witnessed. The horror of it galvanized her, leading to her lifelong passion for safe workplace conditions.

Another great treat this noon will be the songs of Annie Schneiderman Valliere, the great niece of Rose Schneiderman, who helped to found the International Ladies Garment Workers Union after the fire and led the union’s 1913 strike.

I also have a short audio clip that I’ll post as soon as I figure out how to do it!

UPDATE: For a great description of the event, visit the AFL-CIO Now blog.

Annie Valliere singing great union organizing songs at the AFL-CIO event.

Annie Valliere singing great union organizing songs at the AFL-CIO event.

Thank her for the Sound of Music

In Biography on March 25, 2009 at 8:01 am
The Sound of Music CD cover

The Sound of Music CD cover

Well, that’s maybe going a bit far. But Frances Perkins was the official who helped the Von Trapp family achieve asylum in the United States during World War II.

While the Roosevelt Administration dropped the ball when it came to allowing the Jewish and other threatened refugees (the Von Trapps were not Jewish)  from Europe to immigrate to the U.S. in large numbers, Secretary Perkins was successful in helping many escape to safety here — not as many as she would have liked but still a significant number. It was frustrating to her that she couldn’t convince FDR to increase the quotas. However, his Administration was grappling with an isolationist electorate that was also worried about German spies, and he and they decided not to fight that battle. Tragically.

“There’s a new sheriff in town”

In Events, Political world on March 13, 2009 at 2:52 pm

A friend of the Center’s from inside the Department of Labor wrote an eye-witness account of this morning’s swearing-in:

Official portrait of Frances Perkins

Official portrait of Frances Perkins

She [Secretary Solis] said  that if someone is mistreating workers, then they better know that “there’s a new sheriff in town!”

She said that she has placed Frances Perkins’ portrait in the lobby of her office and then quoted FP with the same quote that Obama used last week. [See my blog post about that, along with the video of his speech.]

It’s really great to hear such enthusiasm emanating from the halls of the Frances Perkins building!

Here’s a link to a webcast of the swearing in: http://www.dol.gov/dol/media/webcast/main.htm.

Secretary Solis is officially sworn in today

In Events on March 13, 2009 at 7:01 am
Invitation to Solis Swearing-In Ceremony

Invitation to Solis Swearing-In Ceremony

Working women remember Frances Perkins

In Biography on March 12, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Congresswoman Jan SchakowskyCongresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Il) wrote a great op-ed in The Hill on Tuesday. Here’s an excerpt:

March is National Women’s History Month, and working women across the country are remembering Frances Perkins — the first woman Cabinet secretary and a fighter for labor rights. For Frances Perkins, workers’ rights were women’s rights.

She witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist fire that killed 146 workers (many of them young women) who had been locked in their building and couldn’t escape. She saw women working in sweatshop conditions and being denied their earned wages and benefits. She spent her career working to fix those problems.

Under her leadership as Labor secretary, Congress enacted two key laws: The Fair Labor Standards Act to establish a minimum wage and maximum workweek, and the Wagner Act to give workers the right to organize and bargain collectively. These were landmark laws and made a real difference in women’s lives.

Rep. Schakowsky goes on to urge two actions that would make a tremendous difference to workers:

But there are two key steps we must take to restore the progress made by Frances Perkins.

First, we need to enforce the FLSA and ensure that working women (and men) actually get to take home the pay they have earned. In a new book, Wage Theft in America, Kim Bobo highlights the problem, particularly important to women who dominate job categories where wage theft is prevalent. Wage theft comes in many forms — circumventing minimum wage laws, denying overtime, misclassifying workers as independent contractors instead of employees, underreporting hours worked, or not giving laid-off workers their last paycheck. Estimates are that lost overtime alone could run as high as $19 billion.

Second, we need to restore the Wagner Act’s promise to workers of the right to organize.

The original Wagner Act recognized that workers should decide not just whether they want a union, but how to make that decision. It recognized that employers could use unfair pressure and tactics to deny workplace rights. Over the years, we have returned to that situation and prevented workers who want a union from getting one.