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Mount Holyoke College
Weissman Center for Leadership

The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience

Body Politic(s) | Events | Speakers | Seminars | Resources

Kirstin Downey is the daughter of an expatriate American ship captain and spent her childhood, until college, moving from place to place around the globe. Since joining the Washington Post in 1988, she has won a variety of national and regional press association awards for her business and economics coverage. In 2000, she received a Nieman fellowship at Harvard University to study the economic and workforce history of the U.S.  Most recently she shared in the 2008 Pulitzer Prize awarded to The Washington Post for its coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings.

While the name of Frances Perkins may no longer a household name, she was one of the most influential women of the twentieth century.  In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt named Perkins to the cabinet post of Secretary of Labor. As the first female cabinet secretary, she spearheaded the fight to improve the lives of America’s working people while juggling her own complex family responsibilities. Perkins’s ideas became the cornerstones of the most important social welfare and legislation in the nation’s history, including unemployment compensation, child labor laws, and the forty-hour work week.  During the Great Depression, Perkins pushed for massive public works projects that created millions of jobs for unemployed workers. As head of the Immigration Service, she fought to bring European refugees to safety in the United States. Her greatest triumph was creating Social Security.

Downey’s biography is informed by nearly a decade of research, as well as extensive archival materials, new documents, and exclusive access to Perkins’s family members and friends.  The biography offers 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.  Written with a wit that echoes Frances Perkins’s own, Downey provides a riveting exploration of how and why Perkins slipped into historical oblivion, and restores Perkins to her proper place in history.

The Weissman Center is delighted to cosponsor with the Mount Holyoke College Frances Perkins Program this final 2008-2009 Body Politic(s) lecture.

Event Details
Date: Tuesday, March 31
Time: 7:30 pm
Speaker: Kirstin Downey
Place: Gamble Auditorium, Art Building, Mount Holyoke College
Free and open to public