Frances Perkins (1880 – 1965)

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By Unknown author - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs divisionunder the digital ID cph.3a04983.

Early Life

Frances Perkins was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on the US's east coast in 1880 (often, mistakenly, 1882 is mentioned), but she spent her childhood in Worcester, which is just west of Boston. In 1902, she received her diploma from Mount Holyoke College. Jacob Riis' photojournalistic book How the other half lives (1890), which depicted the slums in New York, inspired Perkins in her later years. Before he was elected US president, Theodore Roosevelt had already been motivated by his work to close the worst rental properties and change housing regulations. The National Consumer League was established in 1899 by Florence Kelley, another person who has inspired her throughout her life. This organization sought to increase customer understanding of the ethical context of the goods they purchased.

Perkins volunteered for Jane Addams’ Hull House

In the years starting in 1902, Perkins visited Chicago frequently and volunteered at Jane Addams' Hull House. Her desire to become a social worker as a result of it. She rose to lead the New York Consumers League and advocated for better working conditions. She earned a master's in political science from Columbia University in 1910. Her reputation was built during the ensuing years through a number of posts in New York, and by 1929, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the state's governor at the time, named her as the department's commissioner. By reducing the amount of hours worked each week and advocating for the abolition of child labor, she was able to improve working conditions.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Frances Perkins as Secretary of Labor

The Wall Street stock market collapsed on October 24th, 1929, causing a severe economic catastrophe to envelop the entire world. The rate of unemployment in the USA quickly increased to 25%. As the Great Depression materialized and private charity were unable to meet the escalating social requirements, panic levels skyrocketed.  Because of his increasing stature and desire to lead the US out of this economic crisis, Franklin Delano Roosevelt set out to become president. Roosevelt came to be influenced by Perkins as well. Roosevelt was named the Democratic Party's nominee for president in July 1932. When he ran for office and won with a sizable majority, he campaigned on a platform of a "new deal" for the USA, which later evolved into the New Deal program. He was inaugurated as the 32nd president of the United States of America in March 1933. Frances Perkins was chosen to serve as secretary of labor. She had an impact on his political work for many years to come. Although it wasn't Mary Richmond's kind of social work, it was nevertheless social work and had a significant impact on many people's lives.

Early in March 1933, Roosevelt took office and started a series of policy changes that later came to be known as the New Deal. This included the social security act, an economy act (which reduced wages and veteran pensions), and the temporary shutdown of all banks to permit significant policy changes (which gave rise to what is now known as a "bank holiday"). This covered unemployment and old-age insurance but not health insurance (hence the so called Obamacare some years ago). In this fashion, the New Deal effectively established a welfare state that would rule the US social work scene for the ensuing decades. It was significant for its shift in emphasis away from specific moral failings as the root causes of poverty and toward more general social and economic factors. Since the turn of the century, Western society has shifted its emphasis in the opposite direction, placing more emphasis on individual responsibility.

Frances Perkins wrote an influential biography of Franklin Roosevelt

Frances Perkins continued to be active after quitting her political position. She wrote a significant biography of Franklin Roosevelt, among other things (who died in 1945). She also kept in touch with Eleanor Roosevelt, who was his wife and an influential figure in the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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