MHC's Frances Perkins Tackles MLK Jr. in Lent Madness

Frances Perkins, class of 1902, has long been one of Mount Holyoke’s most beloved alumnae and role models. From her work in the wake of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, to becoming the first woman to hold as U.S. cabinet position, Perkins embodied Mary Lyon’s charge to "Go forward, attempt great things, accomplish great things" for generations of students.

Now, members of the Mount Holyoke community “have the opportunity to show their solidarity with her and have some online fun” by voting for her during Lent Madness, according to Heidi Shott, the canon for communications and social justice in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.

Shott has chosen Perkins as one of four saintly candidates she’s shepherding through a 32-person elimination tournament dubbed Lent Madness, a lighthearted competition started in 2010 by an Episcopal priest from Hingham, Massachusetts, who wanted to combine his love of sports with his desire to stimulate interest in the lives of religious saints. Each weekday during Lent, visitors to the church website can vote for their favorite saint in a one-day match-up, beginning at 8 am and continuing until 8 am the following day. The winner of each 24-hour contest moves onto the next round until the last contestant standing wins the “Golden Halo.”

“I recommended Frances Perkins, who since 2009 has been commemorated in the Episcopal Church—not as a saint, per se, but as an Episcopalian worthy of having her own commemoration day,” explains Shott, who lives in the Perkins family hometown of Newcastle, Maine, and across the river from Damariscotta, where the Frances Perkins Center is based. “Perkins is truly a hometown favorite.”

“I realize this sounds like geeky, insider baseball, but we've found that championing your person through the brackets is really fun—whether you're an Episcopalian or not interested in religion at all,” she adds. “And it’s a great way to learn about some obscure figures who have done a lot of wonderful things for people throughout the world and across centuries.”

Perkins has already advanced to the “Saintly Sixteen,” after beating out Damien of Molokai in round one on March 1 by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent—with the support of many Mount Holyoke voters. The next round, set to begin at 8 am tomorrow, March 13, will be tougher: She’ll face off against Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who defeated Protestant reformer Martin Luther with 55 percent of the first-round vote.

“Perkins will really need the support of Mount Holyoke students and alums,” says Shott, who theorized why the Episcopal bishop who founded Kenyon College failed to advance in last year’s contest. “Lent Madness made its way through college channels to students and alums, and the Kenyon faithful voted for their man. But he lost in the second round because, we think, it coincided with Kenyon's spring break.”

“Certainly Frances Perkins’s life and commitment to the common good has benefited millions and millions of people. She is a saint to get behind!”