Written by Sichu Mali, summer intern
Prior to being appointed as the Secretary of Labor in 1933, Frances spent 15 years as a member of the Consumers’ League and as an industrial commissioner in New York State. In 1918, she had accepted Governor Al Smith’s invitation to become the first female member of the New York State Industrial Commission. In 1926, she became the chairperson of the commission. During her years as the member and later, as the chairperson of this commission, she championed better working hours and conditions, compensation for work-related injuries, and a minimum wage. An article titled ‘Average Pay is $13, says Miss Perkins’ which was published in the New York American on November 19, 1929 stands as a testimony to Frances’s endorsement of the minimum wage issue.
The article reports that in 1929, a single woman living alone in Manhattan needed $19.70 weekly “to maintain life according to a minimum standard of health and comfort.” Yet the average wage offered to beginner girls and women in the city varied from $13 to $15 a week. It was impossible for the average working girl to make ends meet on the wages she was earning. These points were brought up by Frances, then the New York Industrial Commissioner, in an address before the Association to Promote Proper Housing for Girls, held at the Hotel Pennsylvania. There, she had asked for wages “high enough so that there should be no demand for a subsidy for working girls.” She expressed her opinion as follows:
While Frances’s idea about a reasonable living wage was not fully realized until she became the Secretary of Labor, as this article shows, she had begun advocating for it earlier in her career.