. Soon after Fannie was born, her family moved to Worcester,
attracted by the growing market for paper goods. Her father founded
a store that has become what is know today as Butler-Deardon
Her Maine-born parents supported her wholeheartedly in her education.
After holding her own at Worcester Classical High School, a largely
male institution, Fannie attended Mount Holyoke College where she
completed her undergraduate work in 1902. Background on FP at Mount
She legally changed her first name to "Frances" in about
1905 at age 25. In 1910, she attended Columbia University in New
York City to continue her studies in economics and sociology and
earned her M.A. degree. Background on FP at Columbia's
1911, she was already at work for the Factory Investigation Commission
in New York City. This photo was taken the same year as the Triangle
Shirtwaist Factory Fire which she witnessed first hand, as the horror
unfolded. It galvanized her career to protect American workers.
After the fire, she sat on the committee that was formed to understand
what happened and make sure that it would never happen again.
In 1913, Frances married Paul C. Wilson, an economist working for
the City of New York. They had a daughter, Susanna, in 1916 and
lived happily as a family for a few years until Paul began to have
emotional difficulties. His struggle would probably be called bipolar
disorder today but in those days it was a mystery. He was simply
unable to continue his work and live a normal life. It may have
been Paul's inability to be the breadwinner that propelled Frances
to continue her career helping her fellow man while providing for
her family. The relationship between Frances and her daughter Susanna
was, at times, strained. Susanna spent much of her time with a series
of governesses because her mother was otherwise engaged and only
able to make occasional appearances in Susanna's childhood, sadly
leaving Susanna in the dark about her mother's true devotion to
In 1918, Frances Perkins attended Wharton College where she continued
her studies in economics and sociology. Background on FP at Wharton's
did work at settlement houses and began to work for New York State
as a factory inspector under Governor Alfred Smith. The Triangle
Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 was a galvanizing event for Frances Perkins
and for working conditions and labor law in the country. There were
various committees after the fire to investigate what happened and
see that it did not happen again. Frances Perkins served on many
of these. She then became Commissioner of Labor for the State of
New York under Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt who later invited
her to be his Secretary of Labor when he won the White House in
When FDR invited Frances to be his Secretary of Labor, she brought
with her a hastily written laundry list of ideas for which she would
expect his support if she were to accept his appointment. FDR agreed
and she began twelve years as his Secretary of Labor. Throughout
these years, some of them during the height of the Great Depression,
she worked tirelessly and accomplished a huge number of reforms,
establishing new programs for American workers. This story is very
well told at the AFL-CIO
website and at the Department
of Labor website where it is claimed that she led the battle
against the Great Depression (with New Deal reforms and programs
she either proposed or supported). Among Frances Perkins' major
achievements during her tenure, establishing social security for
the American people is one of her best known and FDR called it the
"cornerstone of his administration." This story is told
at the Social
Security Administration's website.
in 1958, Frances Perkins was invited to be a guest professor at
Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR).
Here she settled into her new role inspiring the younger generation
to engage with the world and make their contribution to it's betterment.
She gave many lectures over these happy years until her death in
1965. One of her lectures was on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and
it is depicted on a webpage
at the ILR. In 1960, the then president of Telluride
House, Christopher Breiseth, invited FP to reside at Telluride
House and she happily accepted. He wrote a delightful
essay on his friendship with FP (the title of which is a play
on FP's title for her book on FDR, "The Roosevelt I Knew")
in which he shares some very amusing and touching memories of their
Frances Perkins (Mrs. Paul Wilson) died on May 14, 1965 having achieved
an astonishing array of social reforms for the American people and
having laid the foundations for many of today's labor standards.
Her family roots were firmly planted in Maine. Frederick W. Perkins,
Frances' father, was born in the family home on the coast of Maine,
a house made of brick from the family brickyard on the property.
The family has always called it The Brick House. The brickyard was
the family business of Frederick's father, Edmund Perkins, Jr.,
and his father Edmund Perkins, Sr.
The Brick House was built as a wedding present to Frances' grandfather
Edmund, Jr. when he and his bride Cynthia Otis married in 1836.
Frances spent many summers and vacations with her grandparents in
Maine and always looked to her grandmother for insight and wisdom.
Frances eventually inherited the family place in Maine with her
sister Ethel. Frances loved the place and came often to get away
from the busy world whenever she could. In fact, she was vacationing
here when the War broke out! She only heard about it because her
driver, Delany, was listening to the car radio and rushed inside
to inform her of the news. They were on their way back to Washington
within the hour.
In 1982, Frances Perkins was posthumously inducted into the National
Women's Hall of Fame where a page is maintained for her at: Women's
Hall of Fame website.
Frances Perkins was the U.S. Department of Labor's 1989 Labor
Hall of Fame Honoree.
Last but not least, you can find more about Frances Perkins and
her career in the online encyclopedia - Wikipedia.