The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Archive for the ‘Programs’ Category

Here’s our first Social Security Stories Project video

In Programs on June 30, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Click the photo to watch the video.

Frances Perkins Center seeks personal stories for historic collection

In General, Programs on March 17, 2010 at 2:53 pm

A Grant from National Academy of Social Insurance supports “Celebrating Social Security—In Our Own Words!

The Frances Perkins Center has received a grant from the National Academy of Social Insurance through funds provided by the Ford Foundation to create a multimedia celebration of the 75th anniversary of the creation of Social Security. Part of the project includes a national competition for personal stories about the effect of this landmark federal program on the lives of Americans.

More than 51 million Americans today are recipients of Social Security, a program created during the Great Depression by the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help people needing financial assistance. The program’s foremost champion was FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, a former social worker who had observed the distress of elderly people no longer able to work and the desperate poverty of orphaned children and families that lose a breadwinner.

The enactment of Social Security in 1935 ushered in, for the first time, the experience of the “Golden Years” for retirees, and today more than 90 percent of older Americans receive Social Security benefits. For more than a third of them, it is their sole source of income. Social Security is also a vital safety net for the disabled and for children who lose a parent or are orphaned.

This program transformed the country, allowing Americans to lead more secure lives than in any other century in American history. Social Security benefits are more important than ever amid the current economic downturn, providing a dependable monthly income that recipients then spend in local stores and businesses.

The Frances Perkins Center will celebrate Social Security’s 75th anniversary year by highlighting the ways the program has been an essential anchor for economic security and stability for American families  through the telling of personal stories. The best essays will be selected for posting on the Frances Perkins Center website and other social networking sites, and about 20 will be nominated for publication in Celebrating Social Security–In Our Own Words! The project will feature essays from today’s leading authorities on the program, including historians, policy experts, celebrities, elected officials, economists, and academics. “The personal stories from everyday people are what will bring the program to life for readers,” says the Center’s executive director, Barbara Burt. “The history is important, but the essays are what will make the collection compelling to read.”

Essays should be no longer than 400 words. Writers must include their name, address, telephone number and email address, and be willing to allow their work to be widely publicized. Email entries are preferred and should be sent to with “Social Security Essay” in the subject line. Entries can also be sent by mail to: Social Security Essay Contest, Frances Perkins Center, PO Box 281, Newcastle, Maine 04553-0281.

Personal account of our New York City event on January 14th

In Events, Legislation, Programs on January 31, 2010 at 9:17 pm

[Written by Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall, the board chair of the Frances Perkins Center. For more information about the event, along with photos and videos, go to:]

Well, it all started last summer at the Frances Perkins Center’s first annual garden party at The Brick House in Newcastle, Maine (home of the Frances Perkins Center). We had invited friends from far and wide and were delighted and happily surprised when Karenna Gore Schiff and her friend Catherine Ann Corman turned out to be among them! Karenna had mentioned that she was working on a film about FP (based on the story in her biography, Lighting the Way: Nine Women Who Changed Modern America) with Catherine. Karenna said that she and Catherine planned to have their new film ready around the turn of the year and one thing led to another as soon as they got to talking with Barb Burt, the Center’s executive director.

Very soon, we had a major event planned for January 14th, in New York at the Harvard Club, which evolved into an afternoon and evening consisting of two panel discussions, a reception, remarks, and the premiere of the new film on FP. You can see a PDF of the program here: Jan14_Program Front.

The months passed quickly and we soon became aware, with mounting trepidation, that we had planned an event in the middle of the winter in New York City, a place where winter can mean business! We all prayed and FP may have been pulling strings again because the weather could not have been nicer. About 160 people came, including a very special surprise guest, Karenna’s father, Vice President Al Gore. His presence was a huge honor for all involved and gave the entire affair a good helping of extra excitement and all-around buzz.

After a perfect simple lunch at the club, the event swat team consisting of Barb Burt, Tomlin Coggeshall, board members Christopher Rice, Betty Wilson, and Sarah Peskin, and some great volunteers, Casey Maliszewski and Emily Wazlak, both Mount Holyoke students, and Heidi Overbeck and Jorge Ruiz from the Women’s City Club of New York, began final preparations for people to begin arriving and registering. Name badges were assembled, programs were collated, seats were set up, video people were testing and adjusting the projection equipment, other video people were setting up to record the panel discussions which turned out to be extremely relevant and incisive. All was coming together very well, a testament in no small part to expert management of the whole affair by Barb Burt, the Center’s executive director, par excellance.

Two rooms were used, one for the “theater” where the panel discussions would take place and a second room, separated from the first by to gigantic mahogany pocket doors at the back of the “theater” room. They opened onto a somewhat smaller room where there were low tables with chairs for authors to sign books, high cocktail tables for guests to talk around, and a cash bar for those who wanted a little fortification. All of it steeped in Harvard Club ambiance and crimson, plenty of old world charm and elegance.

Thanks to Barb’s foresight in having the panel discussions taped, we can share those with anyone interested. Both panels were on Social Security, the first on “The Birth of Social Security and the Transformation of America” and the second on “Strengthening Social Security in the 21st Century.”

After the panel discussions ended, we opened those great doors and had a very nice party. A new portrait of FP was set up on an easel in this room for guests to admire. It had been painted and brought down by car from Maine by artist Rob Shetterly, who has a series he calls “American Who Tell the Truth” and has added FP’s portrait to his series. During the reception, quite unexpectedly, Vice President Gore strode into the room and began chatting with people who he met or who came up to say hello. It was wonderful to see him there and truly was an honor for all.

The reception ended about 7:30pm and the group migrated back through those mahogany doors to settle back into their seats for the premiere of Karenna and Catherine’s new film. Tomlin Coggeshall, FP’s grandson, offered a few words of welcome then invited Christopher Breiseth to share a memory or two of FP which he obligingly did in his delightful way, Chris, in turn, introduced Brian Kennedy (a Telluride House resident for four of the five years that FP lived so happily and comfortably there being so lovingly taken care of). Brian gladly shared some fond memories, and then Barb Burt gave us an overview of the Center’s accomplishments and plans as she introduced Ruth Acker, president of the Women’s City Club of New York, and Rob Shetterly, the Maine artist who brought his portrait of FP down from Maine.

After Rob finished speaking, Barb introduced Karenna and Catherine, who gave us a good understanding of the process and background on their film. They mentioned that their film was in a draft form and and invited comment from the audience. The film imparted a clear sense of FP’s complicated and varied life and career through narration by Karenna with chapter titles and a series of wonderful black and white photos.

So, to recap a recap, on January 14, 2010, we enjoyed wonderful afternoon and evening of…

Panel discussions, a reception with many friends, old and new, some remarks by some, viewing a new portrait of FP by Maine artist Rob Shetterly, and the premiere public showing of a new film on FP by Karenna Gore Schiff and Catherine Ann Corman.

Frances Perkins must be rolling over in her grave

In Political world, Programs on December 3, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Just a quick note to draw attention to the comments of Ben Bernanke at his re-appointment hearing today. As reported by Ryan Grim in Huffington Post (and pointed out to me by Nancy Altman), Bernanke actually said this about Congress repealing Social Security and Medicare:

“It’s only mandatory until Congress says it’s not mandatory. And we have no option but to address those costs at some point or else we will have an unsustainable situation.”

If you’re feeling apoplectic about that–coming from a high official in the Administration–well, so was Senator Sanders, who has placed a hold on the Bernanke nomination:

“The CEOs and top people on Wall Street make huge bonuses, and what? We’re going to cut back on Social Security and Medicare? That’s what we’re going to do?”

If Frances Perkins were alive, she’d be in the thick of this battle. But today, unfortunately, those who would defend Social Security, at least the vast majority of those in high places at the Social Security Administration, were put in place by the Bush Administration. And we know what their plan was — privatize. Why do you think they were so keen to privatize Social Security? Because, like Bernanke and Willie Sutton, they know that’s where the money is!

Join us this Saturday!

In Events, Programs on April 27, 2009 at 7:52 am

To register online, go to

Poster for our May 2nd conference

Poster for our May 2nd conference

The New New Deal: Building an Economy That Works for All of Us

In Events, Legislation Today, Programs on April 14, 2009 at 12:49 pm

The Frances Perkins Center is sponsoring a conference:

Saturday, May 2nd, 8:30 am – 3:00 PM
The University of Maine Hutchinson Center
Route 3, Belfast

Speakers include:
•    Teresa Ghilarducci (Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos working on issues of retirement security and social policy and the Schwartz Professor of Economic Policy Analysis at the New School for Social Research): “Picturing an economy that works for all”
•    Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree: “The role of government in building an economy that works for all”
•    Maine Commissioner of Labor Laura Fortman: “Lessons from Frances Perkins and the New Deal”

Workshop Topics and their leaders include:
•    New Kinds of Work for a New Workforce – Leader: Cliff Ginn, president of Opportunity Maine
•    Self-Employed, Part-Time, Under-Employed — Where’s my Safety Net? – Leader: Laura Boyett, director of the Maine State Bureau of Unemployment
•    The Changing Shape of Retirement – Leader: John Christie, Manager of the Augusta Career Center and member of the Older Workers Task Force
•    What Women Workers Want (and Need) – Leader: Sarah Standiford, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby and the Maine Women’s Policy Center
•    Health Care for All – Leader: Garrett Martin, economic policy analyst at Maine Center for Economic Policy
•    Unions in the 21st Century – Leader: Tim Belcher, executive director of Maine State Employees Association
Panel moderator: Ben Dudley, executive director of Engage Maine

Registration is $35 ($20 for high school or college students), payable by check in advance or at the door.
Continental breakfast, lunch, and snacks included.
To register online:
Questions? Call 207-208-8955 or email


Maine Sunday Telegram showcases the Frances Perkins Center

In Biography, Programs, The Buildings, The Center on April 12, 2009 at 7:11 am


Political reporter Dieter Bradbury and photographer Jack Milton visited The Brick House last week. This article, New Deal leader celebrated in Maine, and accompanying slideshow are the result. The combination makes a wonderful introduction to the Center and its mission.

The creative economy and the New New Deal

In Programs on December 15, 2008 at 11:25 am

FDR’s New Deal didn’t immediately end the Great Depression. What it did do is give people hope that things would get better. In many different ways, the New Deal breathed life back into a nation mired in the depths of despair.

Understanding human psychology, what we might call Social Intelligence or Emotional Intelligence today, is an important component of leadership. When Frances Perkins’s daughter, Susanna, suggested that artists were worthy of the same sort of relief that other workers were receiving, Frances brought the idea up with the president, who immediately saw the value of such a program. As Frances describes in her memoir of Roosevelt:

Projects to give work to unemployed teachers, artists, and theatrical people needed enlightened understanding and courage to be endorsed and developed. The President hadn’t realized, as perhaps none of us had, the degree to which professional people and artists failed to sustain themselves when the national income had shrunk to the lowest level. People out of work do not give music or dancing lessons to their children nor buy tickets to the theater, The President had a keen feeling for the sensibilities of recipients of this relief. (The Roosevelt I Knew by Frances Perkins. Viking, 1046)

She goes on to say about FDR:

He liked people to have a good time in their own ways.

Having a good time was a key ingredient in American life that had been lacking for too long. FDR’s support for this simple idea, along with his gleeful smile and obvious sense of fun, lifted the spirits of Americans and helped them bear the continuing economic distress. The works commissioned by the Works Progress Administration brought beauty to many communities ravaged by poverty.

Rockville, MD, Post Office mural

Rockville, MD, Post Office mural

Today, the arts add richness to our lives in many ways. In addition to the joy of seeing a good play or hearing a wonderful concert, we know that the arts are a significant part of our economy. For example, here are some statistics compiled by

Economic Impact of the Nonprofit Arts Industry

Total Economic Activity      $166.2 Billion
Total Spending by Nonprofit Arts Organizations  $63.1 Billion
Total Spending by Nonprofit Arts Audiences  $103.1 Billion

Total Full-Time Equivalent Jobs Supported  5.7 Million

Total Tax Revenue Generated     $29.6 Billion
Federal Income Tax Revenue     $12.6 Billion
State Government Revenue     $9.1 Billion
Local Government Revenue     $7.9 Billion

Total Household Income Generated   $104.2 Billion

So, in a severe economic downturn, how should government sustain the artistic community? In a humorous essay in yesterday’s New York Time Book Review, Paul Greenberg proposes a bail out for writers, based on FDR’s Agricultural Adjustment Administration, which eliminated overcapacity in the nation’s farms — in other words, paid farmers not to plant crops. He jestingly offers a plan to pay writers not to write.

As funny as the piece is, what’s happening in the publishing world isn’t funny in the least. As the economy tanks, our creative economy will feel the pain, just as it did in the 1930s. As unemployment rises, audiences shrink. Nonprofit arts organizations are already feeling the pinch.

A program to support and sustain the arts could help both creators and their audiences. Artists of all types could be helped by a significant increase in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and state arts commissions. And to raise our flagging spirits today? Make sure that some of that funding is earmarked for ticket subsidies — so the price of attending arts performances is within reach of all.