The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

“You didn’t butt in with bright ideas”

In Biography on March 5, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Christine Stansell, the Stein-Freiler Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, has written a long, informative, and generally positive review of Kirstin Downey’s new biography of Frances Perkins in today’s Daily Beast.

Here’s an excerpt but you should read the whole review:

Normally talkative and articulate, Perkins put on a churchlady-like demeanor “I wanted to give the impression of being a quiet, orderly woman,” she explained without a trace of irony. The reality was, they were men, she was a woman, and so she doubled down. “I just proceeded on the theory that this was a gentleman’s conversation on the porch of a golf club. You didn’t butt in with bright ideas.”

Nonetheless, she clearly had a few “bright ideas.” How she got them through without butting in is a mystery which Downey doesn’t pursue. Her balancing act is all the more remarkable because while she was mollifying suspicious men, she was also turning the corrupt, dysfunctional Labor Department into a robust New Deal agency and whipping out work-relief programs and major pieces of legislation.


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