Hall of Secretaries: Frances Perkins

Frances Perkins
Portrait Artist: Jean MacLane

Tenure: March 4, 1933 to June 30, 1945

From Massachusetts; graduate of Mount Holyoke College. Trained as a social worker, worked in settlement houses in Chicago (Hull House) and Philadelphia, and was involved in the reform efforts spawned by the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Co. Fire in New York City. She was the first woman Industrial Commissioner under New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt; held other important labor related jobs in the New York state government under Governors Roosevelt and Al Smith.

Appointed by Roosevelt; was the first woman Cabinet member. Led the battle against the Great Depression: the Wagner-Peyser Act revitalized the U.S. Employment Service, the Fair Labor Standards Act set a floor under wages and a ceiling over hours, the Wagner Act protected workers' right to organize. She established the Labor Standards Bureau. Through effective relationships with the state governments, she strengthened labor law enforcement by the states. She was also the principal architect of the Social Security Act.

Served 12 years, 3 months (longer than any other Secretary). Went on to serve as a Member of the Civil Service Commission. Department of Labor Headquarters named after her in 1980. Inducted into the Labor Hall of Fame in 1988.




Previous Section
Next Section