The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Posts Tagged ‘New Deal’

We’re #?

In Political world on October 12, 2010 at 7:45 am

It’s America’s mantra. “We’re number one! We’re number one!” You hear it at sports events. You hear it in discussions of democracy in the world or military might. You heard it during the debate on health care.

The sad fact is, we’re far from number #1 and dropping lower. We’re only #1 in a few very bad ways.

In an article today in Salon, “Collapsing empire watch,” author Glenn Greenwald says:

Just to underscore the rapidity of the decline, as recently as 1999, the U.S. was ranked by the World Health Organization as 24th in life expectancy.  It’s now 49th.  There are other similarly potent indicators.  In 2009, the National Center for Health Statistics ranked the U.S. in 30th place in global infant mortality rates.  Out of 20 “rich countries” measured by UNICEF, the U.S. ranks 19th in “child well-being.” Out of 33 nations measured by the OECD, the U.S. ranks 27th for student math literacy and 22nd for student science literacy.  In 2009, the World Economic Forum ranked 133 nations in terms of “soundness” of their banks, and the U.S. was ranked in 108th place, just behind Tanzania and just ahead of Venezuela.

Health and well-being, education, financial soundness — all areas in which you’d like your country to rank #1.

In order to get to #1, however, there must be agreement that focusing spending and attention on those areas is necessary. You have to decide that economic fairness and security is important for everyone, not just the top ten percent of income earners in the population. And you have to make a commitment to regulating the financial industry to make sure that it doesn’t prey on its own customers.

If we care so much about ranking, it’s time we look at what the rankings tell us. How we rank ultimately reflects our values. Forget politics, think people. What kind of a society do we want to be? What would we like the history books to say about the direction of the United States in the early 21st Century with us at the helm?

Compare the achievements of the New Deal of the 1930s, the time of the Great Depression, with the achievements of today, the Great Recession. During extreme hardship, people agreed to help deliver each other from poverty in old age with Social Security, to ensure the continuing of local economies through unemployment insurance, and to improve public facilities and infrastructure by putting the hopelessly unemployed to work in the WPA, the CCC, and other programs. How different the country would feel today if we worked together to improve our collective situation in joint effort. Wouldn’t we be proud?

Guess what we are #1 at. Arms delivery and incarcerations. No pride there.

1935, 1965, 2010 — a nation accepts its responsibilities

In Legislation, Legislation Today on March 23, 2010 at 12:18 pm

The Social Security Act was passed in 1935; Medicare in 1965. Today we celebrate the signing of the next step that will greatly improve the quality of life for all Americans.

Obama signs the health care bill

Click on the picture to watch the ceremony.

Although Frances Perkins and FDR wanted to include national health care in the Social Security Act, it has taken 75 years to get some form of health care for all enacted in the U.S. Medicare transformed life for America’s seniors but didn’t cover those not in that category. While some may be unhappy with the limits of the new legislation–it’s not “Medicare for All”–it is an important step forward, for several reasons.

Robert Reich, in his essay, How healthcare reform makes history, says it very well:

This isn’t a return to the New Deal or the Great Society. It’s an incremental step forward, with big implications.

The significance of Obama’s health legislation is more political than substantive. For the first time since Ronald Reagan told America government is the problem, Obama’s health bill reasserts that government can provide a major solution. In political terms, that’s a very big deal.

For the first time since Ronald Reagan told America government is the problem, Obama’s health bill reasserts that government can provide a major solution. In political terms, that’s a very big deal.

We will not return to the New Deal or the Great Society, but nor will we continue to wallow in the increasingly obsolete Reagan view that we don’t need a strong and competent government. Yesterday’s vote confirms our hope that we can have both strength and competence in Washington. It is an audacious hope, but we have no choice.

Here is a great quote from Obama’s speech: “We are not a nation that scales back its aspirations… We are a nation that faces its challenges and accepts its responsibilities.”

Frances Perkins would applaud that sentiment.

Civilian Conservation Corps’ projects still enhance quality of life in America

In Biography on December 31, 2009 at 10:06 am

The magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, amc outdoors, has an interesting article, “Ski in History’s Tracks: FDR’s cross-country legacy,” about some Northeastern parks built by the CCC under FDR and Frances Perkins, whom FDR put in charge implementing the CCC.

As we await a major snowstorm to blow in the New Year here in Maine, it’s fun to read about places nearby where we might enjoy some great outdoor activity in the new snow, thanks to those visionary New Dealers.

Here’s a quote from “Ski in History’s Tracks”:

Nearly seven decades after the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built its last bridge and blazed its last trail, recreation enthusiasts are still benefitting. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program, aimed to put unemployed men to work, had a lasting impact on recreation. The downhill ski industry in New England was practically created by the CCC (read “Thunder Struck”) and the trails and roads built in parks and forests created cross-country ski destinations that are popular to this day.

WaPo writer calls for “New Deal Feminism” today

In Economics on December 12, 2009 at 10:23 am

Dorothy Sue Cobble, a professor of history and labor studies at Rutgers and author of The Other Women’s Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America and The Sex of Class: Women Transforming American Labor, has written an interesting piece for tomorrow’s Washington Post, “It’s time for New Deal feminism.”

In it, Cobble asks women’s rights advocates to

concentrate on the economy and the workplace — and on the huge transformations that are needed there to get greater equality and security. These are issues that can unite women across class and culture and allow feminism to speak to the fears and concerns of everyone.

She compares this focus to the attention paid to abortion rights, and states

The next women’s movement should look a lot more like the one in the 1930s than the one in the late 1960s.

Citing women leaders such as Esther Peterson, Addie Wyatt, Caroline Dawson Davis, and of course, Frances Perkins, Cobble says this:

They wanted neither the dole nor make-work. Rather, they wanted more good jobs. Good jobs meant, first and foremost, higher pay. What better way to prime the economic pump than to put money in the pockets of workers, who after all are consumers? Female workers in particular needed a raise. They too supported families, they too provided essential services, even if the results were more intangible than in traditional men’s work: a child who could read, a sick patient comforted…

You can read her thought-provoking piece and then participate in an online discussion with her on Monday at 11:00 am.

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.

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.

“1934: A New Deal for Artists” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

In Legislation, Legislation Today, New Deal Legislation on March 6, 2009 at 9:24 am

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is currently (through January 3, 2010) showing a wonderful exhibit of examples from the Public Works of Art Program. Here’s information excerpted from the web site:

Image for 1934: A New Deal for Artists

In 1934, Americans grappled with an economic situation that feels all too familiar today. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration created the Public Works of Art Program—the first federal government program to support the arts nationally. Federal officials in the 1930s understood how essential art was to sustaining America’s spirit. Artists from across the United States who participated in the program, which lasted only six months from mid-December 1933 to June 1934, were encouraged to depict “the American Scene.” The Public Works of Art Program not only paid artists to embellish public buildings, but also provided them with a sense of pride in serving their country. They painted regional, recognizable subjects—ranging from portraits to cityscapes and images of city life to landscapes and depictions of rural life—that reminded the public of quintessential American values such as hard work, community and optimism.

1934: A New Deal for Artists celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Public Works of Art Program by drawing on the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s unparalleled collection of vibrant paintings created for the program. The 56 paintings in the exhibition are a lasting visual record of America at a specific moment in time. George Gurney, deputy chief curator, organized the exhibition with Ann Prentice Wagner, curatorial associate.

A catalogue, fully illustrated in color and co-published by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and D Giles Ltd. in London, is forthcoming in July 2009. It will feature an essay by Roger Kennedy, historian and director emeritus of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History; individual entries for each artwork by Ann Prentice Wagner; and an introduction by the museum’s director Elizabeth Broun. The book will be available online and in the museum store for $49.95 (softcover $35).

Flickr Group
The museum is sharing nearly 400 artworks and related objects dated 1934 from its collection with the public by creating an image group on Flickr. Join the group and add your images from 1934!

On NPR’s Morning Edition yesterday, reporter Elizabeth Blair did a story called ‘1934’: Reflecting On America’s First Big Art Buy. You can listen to the story on the web site, and see examples from the exhibit.


In The Center on March 6, 2009 at 9:01 am

We have bookmarks! If you’d like a few, send us an email: You can also pick up a bookmark (and a book) at appearances by author Kirstin Downey and her newly published book, THE WOMAN BEHIND THE NEW DEAL: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience. (Click on the link to see her book tour schedule.)

bookmark front

bookmark back

The artwork is from a Works Progress Administration mural at the Detroit Public Library by Marvin Beerbohm.

“The lessons she taught us”

In Biography on March 4, 2009 at 7:57 pm
Rep. Carolyn Maloney

Rep. Carolyn Maloney

Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) has a nice blog post about Frances Perkins in today’s Huffington Post, commemorating the 76th anniversary of Frances Perkins’s nomination to be FDR’s labor secretary, the first woman member of a presidential cabinet.  As a congresswoman from New York City, Maloney knows about Frances Perkins’s work in New York, where she was appointed to commissions by both governors Al Smith and Franklin Roosevelt, starting as a factory safety inspector and ending up as labor commissioner under Governor Roosevelt.

Perkins demonstrated by her deeds and words that an ailing economy should not be used as an excuse to push aside the long-term initiatives that would move our country forward. Instead, we should push forward – as she did, in the face of strong Republican opposition — to rebuild our economy in a way that recognizes that workers make our economy grow, and their contributions to our general prosperity must be fairly rewarded. The best way we can honor the legacy of this remarkable American trailblazer is to remember the lessons she taught us.

The mission of the Frances Perkins Center is exactly that, “to remember the lessons she taught us” and to act upon those lessons.