March 4, 1933: Frances Perkins sworn in as Secretary of Labor, first woman to serve in the cabinet


FDR’s administration hit the ground running.

On March 4, 1933, Frances Perkins was sworn in as his Secretary of Labor.  She became the first woman to serve in a president’s cabinet.

Frances Perkins, by Robert Shetterly

Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve in a president’s cabinet, was Secretary of Labor in Franklin Roosevelt’s Administration. Painting by Robert Shetterly, part of his series, Americans Who Tell the Truth, Models of Courageous Citizenship

The text on the portrait:

“Very slowly there evolved… certain basic facts, none of them new, but all of them seen in a new light. It was no new thing for America to refuse to let its people starve, nor was it a new idea that man should live by his own labor, but it had not been generally realized that on the ability of the common man to support himself hung the prosperity of everyone in the country.”

Perkins was one of the chief proponents of Social Security and the Social Security System.  She was a crusader for better working conditions long before joining FDR’s cabinet.

Perkins witnessed the March 25, 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and watched the trapped young women pray before they leapt off the window ledges into the streets below. Her incessant work for minimum hours legislation encouraged Al Smith to appoint her to the Committee on Safety of the City of New York under whose authority she visited workplaces, exposed hazardous practices, and championed legislative reforms. Smith rewarded her work by appointing her to the State Industrial Commission in 1918 and naming her its chair in 1926. Two years later, FDR would promote her to Industrial Commissioner of New York.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Jim Stanley and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut; Rep. DeLauro posted a Facebook note of the anniversary, which Jim called to my attention.

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One Response to March 4, 1933: Frances Perkins sworn in as Secretary of Labor, first woman to serve in the cabinet

  1. […] March 4, 1933: Frances Perkins sworn in as Secretary of Labor, first woman to serve in the cabinet (timpanogos.wordpress.com) […]

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