One of the Most Intriguing Women in U.S. History That You Have (Probably) Never Heard of

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Her name is Frances Perkins.

If you are like me, the name probably doesn’t ring a bell. However, it should considering all of her achievements. Child labor laws, unemployment insurance, social security? You have Ms. Perkins to thank for those programs. First woman appointed to a cabinet Secretary position? Frances holds that title as well, serving as the Secretary of Labor under FDR.

I learned all of this from a new book I just started reading, “The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and Moral Conscience” by Kirsten Downey. I’m only fifty pages in and I’m already riveted.

Perkins went to college when women didn’t really do that. She worked as a social worker investigating sex slave trafficking of immigrant women, and it is safe to say women of that time definitely did not usually do that work. (Heck, most women today would not have the guts for that job!)  Intelligent and ambitious, Frances studied at Wharton School of Business and went on to do a fellowship at Columbia. Visionary, passionate, and fearless are a few words that come to mind, and did I mention I’m only at page 50 or so?

As Publisher’s Weekly writes, “No individual—not even Eleanor Roosevelt—exerted more influence over the formulation of FDR’s New Deal or did more to implement the programs than Frances Perkins (1880–1965).”

woman behind the new dealThe timing of this book’s release couldn’t be better, as our country again grapples with how to respond to a great recession. I personally hope that as I continue reading I will gain insight (and perhaps a dose of inspiration) on how Perkins was able to advance such a bold agenda. You will likely hear more from me as I dive in deeper and learn even more about this fascinating historical figure.

Have you read this book, or were you already familiar with Perkins as a historical figure? Share your thoughts, and let me know if you pick up the book as well.

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