She was the first female cabinet member.
In office for twelve years from 1933 to 1945, she served longer than any other Secretary of Labor.
As the fourth Secretary of Labor, she was the first woman to enter the presidential line of succession.
Her accomplishments were enormous! Her battle plan against the Great Depression made her instrumental in the adoption of social security, unemployment insurance, federal laws regulating child labor and the federal minimum wage. The Fair Labor Standards Act set a minimum wage balanced by a maximum number of hours. The Wagner Act safeguarded the workers’ right to organize. Working with numerous state governments, she fortified the enforcement of labor law.
Even with a list of extraordinary accomplishments, she was harassed publicly for being a woman in a “man’s job.”
She left office in 1945 after Roosevelt’s death and worked for yet another two decades, serving on the U.S. Civil Service Commission for President Truman then teaching and lecturing until her death.
She was inducted into the Labor Hall of Fame in 1988.
The Department of Labor building in Washington, D.C. is named The Frances Perkins Building.
Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. described Frances Perkins as: “Brisk and articulate, with vivid dark eyes, a broad forehead and a pointed chin, usually wearing a felt tricorn hart, she remained a Brahmin reformer, proud of her New England background . . . and intent on beating sense into the heads of those foolish people who resisted progress. She had pungency of character, a dry wit, an inner gaiety, an instinct for practicality, a profound vein of religious feeling, and a compulsion to instruct . . .”
As with all women who trod the halls of power, she had to maintain a careful balance. She had to be tactful yet politically astute. She had to temper capability with courage. A quiet-cool persona was sometimes mistaken for aloofness. Although her legislative accomplishments indicate her great love of workers and lower-class groups, her “proper” Bostonian background made her reticent to mingle and demonstrate affection and regard. However, she obviously valued and even loved members of the working class. Sadly, although she was able to effect sweeping reforms, the public never embraced her.
She was a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, the first of the Seven Sisters, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and physics. (A STEM-field graduate!) Later, she earned a master’s degree from Columbia University in political science. Today, Mount Holyoke College has a Francis Perkins Program, founded in 1980, which allows non-traditional students to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree. Each year there are approximately 140 students enrolled in the program.