Alex Beam of the Boston Globe had some nice words about the new biography of Frances Perkins, written by Kirstin Downey and released for publication today. Here he describes some of the challenges Downey faced in undertaking this important work.
There were mile-wide gaps in Perkins’s life story – Perkins and her only child destroyed some of her personal papers – yet Downey managed to produce her excellent, just-published “The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience.”
It’s a provocative title, but Downey convinced me that Fannie Perkins, of Beacon Hill, Worcester, and Mount Holyoke College, was the woman behind the New Deal. She was certainly the Cabinet member most directly involved in creating the Social Security Act, and a key champion of the National Recovery Act and the Civilian Conservation Corps. I know Downey has strong feelings for Perkins, yet I would call this book admiring but not worshipful. Perkins, the first woman to ever serve in the Cabinet, was a tough customer, and manipulated Roosevelt’s whimsies as cannily as Harry Hopkins and Harold Ickes, her allies and rivals in the White House inner circle.