Two Weeks of Worthy Women: Frances Perkins

Did you know that Frances Perkins is honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church on May 13? I didn’t. She is designated as “Public Servant and Prophetic Witness” in the Church year, and from my reading of her life, I can’t deny she deserves such a place of worthy honor.

frances perkinsSome readers may be wondering just who she is. She wasn’t a Roman Catholic–her family were Congregationalists. She was a member of the Episcopal Church during her professional life.

Fannie Coralie Perkins, born 1882 in Boston, encouraged by her father to push back against the boundaries and obstacles placed before American women in that era, found herself in New York City at the time of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. This senseless tragedy fueled a lifetime of public service.

For more than two decades, Ms Perkins worked tirelessly for labor rights in New York State, gaining respect from public officials, including two governors. Her litany of tasks was effectively won over the years: shorter work weeks, especially for children and women, safety considerations, a minimum wage.

In 1933 she was named to FDR’s cabinet as Secretary of Labor. New Deal legislation she didn’t draft, she supported.

Her commentary on the economic crisis of her day:

But with the slow menace of a glacier, depression came on. No one had any measure of its progress: no one had any plan for stopping it. Everyone tried to get out of the way.

Sounds about right for the economic profiteers of the Jazz Age.

Left, she witnesses FDR signing the national Labor Relations Act.

She was effective enough in turning back the tide of depression to merit an impeachment attempt (photo here) by congressional Republicans. How things had changed since she had been born into a GOP New England family a half century prior. Actually, they didn’t like that she declined to pursue deporting a labor organizer from Australia. All he was advocating was a union open to people of any race, creed, and political party. For promoting workplace safety, health care, and pensions, he was labeled (gasp!) a Communist.

Impeachment proceedings went nowhere fast.

After twelve years helming Labor, she resigned to head the U.S. delegation for the International Labor Organization conference. The following year President Truman named her to the U.S. Civil Service Commission, where she served until 1953.

She spent her final years at Cornell University, inspiring a new generation of responsible economists, community activists, and faithful citizens.

Some recent accomplishments:

More information on this worthy woman can be browsed at the Frances Perkins Center.

Let Ms Perkins have the final word today:

The people are what matter to government, and a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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