In the wake of the removal this past weekend of the mural depicting MHC alumna Frances Perkins (photo at right) and other historic labor leaders from the Maine Department of Labor (MDOL) building, President Lynn Pasquerella has faxed a letter of protest to that state's governor, Paul LePage. LePage ordered the removal of the 11-panel mural after stating it was too pro-labor and made local business leaders uncomfortable when they visited the MDOL.
Perkins is one of Mount Holyoke's most esteemed alumnae, and numerous MHC alumnae and students have complained to College representatives about the governor's action. Below is the text of Pasquerella's letter:
March 29, 2011
The Honorable Paul LePage
Office of the Governor
1 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0001
Dear Governor LePage:
I write with grave concerns regarding your decision to remove this past weekend a mural depicting scenes from Maine's labor history, including a depiction of Frances Perkins, an alumna of Mount Holyoke College and one of the most important figures in American history. I am also concerned that you have ordered a conference room named for Perkins, who has longstanding ties to Maine, to be renamed.
In some ways, the timing for this decision could not have been worse. Friday, March 25, marked the 100th anniversary of the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. This event strongly influenced Perkins's lifelong commitment to the well-being of working men and women, as well as to working children in those days of rampant exploitation. But on an even larger scale, the Great Recession we are now struggling through--and which has hit Maine particularly hard--has numerous historical parallels with the Great Depression. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, the first woman presidential Cabinet member, figured prominently in leading us out of that cataclysm.
I was particularly surprised to read that you were influenced by an anonymous fax comparing the 11-panel mural to North Korean political propaganda, because the act of removing images commemorating Maine's history itself conjures thoughts of the rewriting of history prevalent in totalitarian regimes. If the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. is housed in the Frances Perkins Building, why can't she be honored with a conference room in Augusta?
Perkins sets an example to the political figures of today of how service to our nation's working people must always be at the core of our national enterprise. She is also the perfect role model for girls and women seeking inspiration in a world that needs more women leaders.
On behalf of Perkins's alma mater, including many alumnae who share my concerns about efforts to diminish the significance of one of our most distinguished sisters, I urge you to reverse course and to celebrate this heroic woman and the notable achievements of working men and women in the great state of Maine.
Mount Holyoke College
Addendum: President Pasquerella's letter to Governor LePage garnered national media attention and support.