Skip to main content

Frances Perkins: Architect of the New Deal and Social Security

Publish date:
Video Rating:
Video Duration:

TheStreet's month-long video series focusing on Women's History, Wall Street, and Beyond continues with a look back at Frances Perkins.

While FDR is widely credited for the New Deal, Frances Perkins has been largely forgotten for her vital contributions to the largest social programs of our nation’s history. 

She studied sociology and economics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and later earned a master's degree from Columbia University. Her social work continued in New York where she witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and later proclaimed it, “the day the New Deal was born.”

Theodore Roosevelt suggested that Perkins be appointed as Executive Secretary of the newly formed citizen’s Committee on Safety which later became The Factory Investigating Commission where she worked for fire safety, limiting working hours and establishing sanitary conditions in workplaces.

She was the first woman to be appointed to an administrative position in the New York state government and, with an annual salary of $8000, the highest-paid woman ever to hold public office in the United States.

In 1933, President-elect Roosevelt asked Frances Perkins to serve as the first woman cabinet member, (also the first LGBT cabinet member) as Secretary of Labor, where she forcefully advocated for landmark social policies including a 40-hour workweek, a minimum wage, unemployment compensation, worker’s compensation, abolition of child labor, and universal health insurance.

In 1934, Roosevelt appointed Frances Perkins to head a Committee on Economic Security, where she forged the blueprint of legislation finally enacted as the Social Security Act. 

As Women's History Month kicked off, TheStreet took a look back at Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An Uncompromising Leader of the American Women's Rights Movement and learn more about Jane Fraser, Citi's New CEO and First Female Leader of a Major U.S. Bank. (C)

Related Videos