On March 4, 1933, Frances Perkins was the first woman to serve as a cabinet secretary, Secretary of Labor, when appointed by FDR. She was the principal architect of the New Deal and served for 12 years.
The fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was, Frances later proclaimed, “the day the New Deal was born.” While having tea with friends in NYC, Frances witnessed in horror as 47 workers – mostly young women – jumped from the eighth and ninth floors of the building to their deaths on the street below. In all, 146 died as flames engulfed the upper three stories of the building. Frances decided new regulations were necessary to protect workers, including women and children.
As such, a list of her policy priorities that she would pursue included: a 40-hour work week; a minimum wage; unemployment compensation; worker’s compensation; abolition of child labor; direct federal aid to the states for unemployment relief; Social Security; a revitalized federal employment service; and universal health insurance.
She succeeded in accomplishing all but one of the items on the agenda: universal access to health care.
She is credited with formulating policies to shore up the national economy following the nation’s most serious economic crisis and helping to create the modern middle class. In a 1944, a piece portraying Frances Perkins in Collier’s magazine described her accomplishments over the previous twelve years as “not so much the Roosevelt New Deal, as … the Perkins New Deal.”