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Perkins, Frances,1882–1965, U.S. Secretary of Labor (1933–45), b. Boston. She worked at Hull House, was executive secretary of the New York Consumers' League (1910–12) and of the New York Committee on Safety (1912–17), and directed (1912–13) investigations for the New York state factory commission. She became an authority on industrial hazards and hygiene and began lobbying in Albany for more comprehensive factory laws and for maximum-hour laws for women. Gov. Alfred E. Smith appointed (1923) her to the New York State Industrial Board, and later she served (1926–29) as its chairman. Gov. Franklin Delano Roosevelt named her (1929) industrial commissioner of New York state to direct the enforcement of factory and labor laws. As President, Roosevelt appointed her U.S. Secretary of Labor—the first appointment of a woman to the U.S. cabinet. Her appointment was bitterly criticized by business, labor, and political leaders. As Secretary of Labor, she promoted adoption of the Social Security Act, advocated higher wages, urged legislation to alleviate industrial strife, and helped standardize state industrial legislation. After she resigned, she served (1946–52) as a member of the U.S. Civil Service Commission. Besides books on labor problems, she wrote The Roosevelt I Knew (1946).
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Perkins, Frances (b. Fannie Coiralie Perkins)(1880–1965) cabinet member; born in Boston, Mass. Graduating from Mount Holyoke College (1902), she taught, worked in settlement houses, and came to favor a greater role for the federal government in aiding the poor. Soon after earning a graduate degree in political science from Columbia University, she witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (1911) that killed 146 factory workers; the event further inspired her crusade for safe working conditions and other labor reforms. She won passage of landmark labor legislation as New York State industrial commissioner (1926–32). As longtime U.S. labor secretary and the first woman member of a federal cabinet (1932–45), she helped develop major New Deal reforms, including Social Security (1935) and a federal Fair Labor Standards Act that imposed a minimum wage (1938). She later served on the Civil Service Commission (1946–53) and taught at Cornell (from 1957).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.