Admirer and Scholar of Frances Perkens

Rebecca Brenner 15

Rebecca Brenner 15

Rebecca Brenner '15, Archival Intern

Major: History and Philosophy

Awards: Almara Grant

Advanced Degrees: currently pursuing MA in Public History

Internship sponsor: Frances Perkens Center 

As the first Mount Holyoke intern for the Frances Perkins Center, my 2014 summer project was to organize the extensive research of author Kirstin Downey for donation to the Mount Holyoke Archives & Special Collections.

My internship was often confusing to explain because my organization was the Frances Perkins Center in Maine, my supervisor was Leslie Fields in the Mount Holyoke archives, and my work location was Kirstin Downey’s home in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. As I arranged and logged a dozen boxes of archival documents, Kirstin Downey often discussed with me her research that went into The Woman Behind the New Deal. She mentioned that there was a series of overflowing folders of Perkins’ refugee correspondence at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

In the fall of 2014, I began an independent study on Frances Perkins’ refugee policy. I received an Almara grant from the history department to visit the National Archives at College Park during fall break. I photocopied as many letters as possible in four days, and it took several months to read through most of them thoroughly. I discovered that Perkins, who wanted so much to help refugees from Nazi Germany, realized her limits over the course of the 1930s.

This project became my honors thesis (Dear Miss Perkins: A Story of Frances Perkins's Efforts to Aid Refugees from Nazi Germany, 1933-1940) on the efforts of Frances Perkins to aid refugees from Nazi Germany. I learned not only about the topic, but also about drawing conclusions from archival research. Lifelong friendships formed among the History thesis writers, as we all persisted to transform research into narrative. I am currently writing more about Perkins’ refugee policy as part of my 2015 summer internship in the History Office at the National Archives.