Frances Perkins Speaks at 1939 AAUW Convention

Pushing in the Right Directions

A healthy discontent keeps us alert to the changing needs of our time.

Frances Perkins was the first woman to serve in as a member of the U.S. Cabinet, appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. As U.S. Secretary of Labor—a position she held for 12 years—she was the principal architect of many New Deal initiatives designed to improve the lives of working Americans, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, the National Labor Relations Act, the minimum wage, restrictions on child labor and the Social Security Act.

Perkins was an active AAUW member and spoke at the Association’s national convention in Denver, Colorado, in 1939. During her speech, titled “Women in Public Administration,” Perkins pulled out a worn sheet of paper containing scribbled notes she had made eight years earlier. The notes included a list of ideas, such as “shorter hours and higher wages, abolition of child labor, provision for needy old age and unemployment, public works to stimulate slack employment and business, free public employment changes on a national scale, measures for industrial safety and health, one day’s rest in seven, [and] recognition of the right to organize and bargain collectively.”

After she read them off, she reminded the audience that all the ideas were now in practice and had been put into place to protect “another generation against the hazards and devastations of the worst poverty this country has ever seen.”