A Brief History of Frances Perkins Born in Boston, Maine in 1880, Frances Perkins came from a respectable middle-class Republican family. At a very young age, Perkins’s parents strongly encouraged her to live her life on earth for God and do something good in her lifetime to please not only her parents, but God as well (Frances Perkins, 2010). She later on enrolled at Mount Holyoke College and studied natural sciences, but had a strong interest in economic history and social reform issues as well.
By 1909, Perkins went on to graduate school at Columbia University and earned a master’s degree in economics and sociology (Frances Perkins, 2010).The importance of Frances Perkins in history is obvious. She became the first woman to hold a Cabinet post in the U. S. and held the position of secretary of labor for the entire duration of Roosevelt’s presidency (Frances Perkins, 2010). Throughout her work career, Perkins dedicated most of her time by improving the lives of workers in the U. S.
Furthermore, she brought the concerns of economic justice and security for all Americans forward during the political agenda of her day (Frances Perkins, 2010).Perkins grew up towards the end of the 19th century, which was a time of economic change and social transformation. This period was known as the Progressive Era and lasted from about 1875 to 1925 (Segal, Gerdes, & Steiner, 2010). This was a time when jobs and income shifted from agriculture to more industrialized jobs (e. g. , factories, the railroad expansion, and cheap labor from immigrants). A rising concern during this time was the complete contrast between agricultural and manufacturing job settings.
For instance, manufacturing jobs were extremely dangerous and the working conditions or tasks were unregulated, thus the workers were under complete control of the factory owners (Segal, Gerdes, & Steiner, 2010). During the Progressive Era, major social, economical, and political changes cropped up to lessen societal problems. Thus, the development of the social work profession began. Upon the completion of graduation from college in 1902, Perkins learned firsthand about the dangerous conditions of factories and the broken promises in regards to wages for the workers (Frances Perkins, 2010). After arning her master’s degree in 1910, Perkins worked very closely with Florence Kelley, who had a significant role in terms of social welfare throughout the Progressive Era and early 20th century (e. g. , child labor abolishment, minimum wage) (Frances Perkins, 2010).
Perkins successfully lobbied the New York legislature for a bill that limited the hours of work per week for women and children to 54 hours or less (Frances Perkins, 2010). On top of that, she decided to become active in the women’s suffrage movement by participating in marches and giving speeches on street-corners as well (Frances Perkins, 2010).As mentioned earlier, it was after the completion of her undergraduate degree in 1902 when Perkins became aware of the dangerous conditions in various job settings in the U. S by teaching in various settlement houses. Moreover, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911 became a critical and tragic event for Perkins. With this experience, she helplessly watched 146 workers who were mostly young women jump from upper-floor windows because the building lacked fire escapes (Frances Perkins, 2010).This became a constant reminder of why she needed to fight for satisfactory conditions in factories and other job settings.
In 1929, Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Perkins the main post in New York’s labor department. With the respect from many, she was able to make New York the primary state for progressive reform. In addition, she implemented factory investigations, minimized the weekly hours for women to 48 hours, and helped establish minimum wage including unemployment insurance laws (Frances Perkins, 2010).By 1933, Roosevelt promoted her to labor secretary. Some of her achievements during this time were the Wagner Act (i. e.
, allowed workers the right to organize unions) and the Fair Labor Standards Act which created a minimum wage and maximum workload for men and women (Frances Perkins, 2010). Perkins was also the chairperson for the Committee on Economic Security, which created the Social Security Act in 1935. This act provided long-term protections through a federal program of social insurance and public assistance (e. g. Unemployment benefits, temporary assistance for needy families, Medicare, Medicaid) (Segal, Gerdes, & Steiner, 2010). Perkins became a prominent figure in the outcomes of the Great Depression and the New Deal era. She supported the rights of workers and encouraged them to organize unions of their choice.
Her last major position was from 1945 to 1953 with the Civil Service Commission under President Truman. Towards the end of her life, Perkins decided to teach and became a professor at Cornell University. Frances Perkins was the first woman to hold a Presidential cabinet position in the U.S. , but that is not the only reason why she is (or should be) recognized in American history. She played a large role in the adoption of social security in the U. S.
, unemployment insurance, satisfactory working conditions, minimum wage, and regulated workweek hours for men and women.References Frances Perkins. (2010). Retrieved September 24, 2010, from American’s Union Movement: http://www. aflcio. org/aboutus/history/history/perkins. cfm Segal, E.
A. , Gerdes, K. E. , ; Steiner, S. (2010). An Introduction to the Profession of Social Work. Belmont, CA, USA: Cengage Learning.
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