The woman behind the New Deal: Frances Perkins symposium at FDR site in Hyde Park

Social Security Act on August 14, 1935. Standing with FDR are Rep. Robert Doughton, Sen. Robert Wagner, Rep. John Dingell, Rep. Joshua Twing Brooks, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, Sen. Pat Harrison and Rep. David Lewis. (Library of Congress)

The first woman ever to serve in a US presidential cabinet, or the longest-serving Secretary of Labor ever (12 years), she would still deserve a shining place in 20th-century history. She was a suffragist who retained her own last name when she married, worked with Jane Addams as a Hull House volunteer in her youth, advocated passionately for female workers after witnessing the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, became the highest-paid woman in New York State government as Industrial Commissioner, taught Sociology at Adelphi University, fought against child labor and for unemployment and a minimum wage – all before she even joined the FDR administration. As Secretary of Labor, Perkins was the author of key New Deal legislation, including the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Social Security Act of 1935. As chair of the President’s Committee on Economic Security, she helped created back-to-work programs including the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration, the Federal Works Agency and the National Industrial Recovery Act.

Kirsten Downey, author of The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins, will participate in a book-signing and a symposium titled “Together, We Win: FDR, Frances Perkins and the ILO” on April 15 at the Wallace Center at the FDR Library in Hyde Park. The event commemorates the centenary of the International Labour Organization, whose current director-general, Guy Ryder, will also be a panelist in the symposium. The other participants will be Scott Busby, deputy assistant secretary at the US State Department; Martha Newton, deputy undersecretary of ILAB at the Department of Labor; Ronnie Goldberg, senior counsel for the US Council for International Business; and Kelly Ross, deputy director of policy for the AFL-CIO. Roosevelt Institute Fellow Todd Tucker will moderate.


The program begins at 2:30 p.m. on Monday, April 15. This is a free public event, but registration at is required. 

“Together, We Win: FDR, Frances Perkins and the ILO,” Monday, Apr. 15, 2:30 p.m., Free/preregister, Henry A. Wallace Center, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, 4079 Albany Post Rd. (Rte. 9), Hyde Park, (845) 486-7745,