The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins, Social Security, Unemployment Insurance,

by Kirstin Downey

Paperback, 2010




Anchor (2010), Edition: Reprint, 496 pages


Frances Perkins is no longer a household name, yet she was one of the most influential women of the twentieth century. Frances Perkins was named Secretary of Labor by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. As the first female cabinet secretary, at the height of the Great Depression, she spearheaded the fight to improve the lives of America's working people while juggling her own family responsibilities. Perkins's ideas became the cornerstones of the most important social welfare legislation in the nation's history, including unemployment compensation, child labor laws, the forty-hour work week, and Social Security. Also, as head of the Immigration Service, she fought to bring European refugees to safety. Based on eight years of research, extensive archival materials, new documents, and exclusive access to family and friends, this 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.--From publisher description.… (more)


(58 ratings; 4.2)

User reviews

LibraryThing member PuddinTame
I thought I knew about Frances Perkins, but this superb biography has made me realize that she was much more significant than I realized. Much of Roosevelt's New Deal was in fact the brainchild of Perkins, and laid out at least in outline form by her before she accepted the cabinet post. I respect
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her enormous achievements all the more for realizing that they were in the face of personal problems that would have overwhelmed me in her place. Perkins was deeply religious, and one hopes that her concern for the poor and the powerless will be a model for contemporary Christians as they are currently wrestling with the issue of social action.

Recommended for all Americans who want to understand the society in which they live, and the situation from which it arose. This is extremely relevant in the current financial and social crises that we are facing.
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LibraryThing member ACQwoods
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, advancing the 40 hour workweek, the end of child labor, and the beginning of unemployment
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insurance and Social Security. You've probably seen bumper stickers that say "The 40 Hour Work Week: Brought to you by Unions". Well they should say brought to you by Frances Perkins! As for the book itself, I really enjoyed it. There were a few chapters in the middle that got dragged down in policy and lost focus on Frances in particular but overall it was a great look at an incredible woman.
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LibraryThing member storyjunkie
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 accolades or condemnations she would receive for the results. Miss Perkins' wasn't always right, and
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she didn't always get her way, but she had the character to face the tasks that didn't score her any points and weren't the shiny thing to be pursuing.

Frances Perkins was a labor advocate, in ever sense of the word. She went from working with unions and politicians in New York to being the first woman United States cabinet member - as the Secretary of Labor. She didn't let tradition, political entropy, or detractors steer her away from what she thought was right - passing the 40 hour work-week, Social Security, Medicare, and many things that workers in this country now take for granted. She tackled immigration reform, created a formidable and reliable Bureau of Labor Statistics, which we use to know what's going on with our workers and economy to this day. And watched her department be split, duties taken out from under her, and handed out as her popularity waxed and waned, as her work was appreciated or not over time.

Ms. Downey admires Miss Perkins greatly, and that comes through very clearly in this work. Miss Perkins reads as very worth admiring.
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LibraryThing member Jcambridge
This is a biography of a woman way before her time, grappling with all the economic issues our nation faces today -- depression, foreclosures, unemployment, health insurance, social security, and the list goes on...This is a must read whether or not one thinks we can learn from history. Frances
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Perkins is an unsung hero of American politics and democracy -- a woman who truly was the power behind the "throne" of the U.S. presidency. While trying to solve so many of the nation's problems, she also had to manage a complicated personal life.
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LibraryThing member snash
Frances Perkins was an amazing woman who had a major impact upon modern America. Her role in instigating and then pushing to reality most parts of the New Deal is awe inspiring. This was done when women in such roles were viewed very skeptically. As a public woman she was a success. Her private
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life, while never as important to her as her public one, was difficult and painful. The author has done a good job in presenting the whole person, even the private parts which Frances kept as hidden as possible. Along the way, personality profiles of other figures of the 30's to 60's are exposed including FDR, Truman, Al Smith, etc.
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LibraryThing member bonsam
This is a rather gossipy book. Seriously lacking in detail of the policies brought forward by an extraordinary woman. Really, does it matter what she wore while doing any of the good work she did.

This is missed opportunity to explore the policies, what brought them to a political place where it
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was possible to consider and pass the necessary legislation, over what time period? What was the focus of each law and how was it implemented and when? How many people did these changes impact, how many lost in the process?

Sadly, there is far more about Perkins' social relationships, whether she was or was not gay, her financial issues. Should have been more on work she had done and what she had seen and experienced that gave her the empathy and understanding of the issues she was dedicated to in her various positions.

Documentation and sourcing is unprofessional, at least for anything to be considered a scholarly or historical. Many citations are newspaper references or what someone said---secondhand at best.

The reader will get an overview of the period, some facts and a lot of fluff.
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496 p.; 5.19 inches


1400078563 / 9781400078561
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