The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR's Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience

Front Cover
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2009 - Biography & Autobiography - 458 pages
6 Reviews

Frances Perkins is no longer a household name, yet she was one of the most influential women of the twentieth century. Based on eight years of research, extensive archival materials, new documents, and exclusive access to Perkins’s family members and friends, this biography is the first complete portrait of a devoted public servant with a passionate personal life, a mother who changed the landscape of American business and society.

Frances Perkins was named Secretary of Labor by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. As the first female cabinet secretary, she spearheaded the fight to improve the lives of America’s working people while juggling her own complex family responsibilities. Perkins’s ideas became the cornerstones of the most important social welfare and legislation in the nation’s history, including unemployment compensation, child labor laws, and the forty-hour work week.

Arriving in Washington at the height of the Great Depression, Perkins pushed for massive public works projects that created millions of jobs for unemployed workers. She breathed life back into the nation’s labor movement, boosting living standards across the country. As head of the Immigration Service, she fought to bring European refugees to safety in the United States. Her greatest triumph was creating Social Security.

Written with a wit that echoes Frances Perkins’s own, award-winning journalist Kirstin Downey gives us a riveting exploration of how and why Perkins slipped into historical oblivion, and restores Perkins to her proper place in history.

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - storyjunkie - LibraryThing

Giving background into Miss Perkins' character and the issues she battled and held dear, Downey gives the reader insight into a woman that bent to tasks she believed were right, regardless of the ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - ACQwoods - LibraryThing

Eleanor Roosevelt gets a lot of credit for being a powerful woman but Frances Perkins was unbelievable. She was the first ever female cabinet secretary. She spent her whole life fighting for laborers ... Read full review

Other editions - View all

About the author (2009)

KIRSTIN DOWNEY joined The Washington Post in 1988 and has won Press Association awards for her business and economic reporting. Most recently she shared in the 2008 Pulitzer Prize awarded to The Washington Post for its coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings. She was awarded a Nieman fellowship at Harvard University, where her research into the country’s economic history led to this biography. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Bibliographic information