Frances Perkins, witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire of 1911, a horror that inspired her to fight for labor reforms such as minimum wage laws and safety regulations. To that end, she became involved in politics and eventually became the first woman in America to serve at the cabinet level of the federal government, as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor from 1933 – 1945.
Her rise to the Cabinet began in New York State, where Perkins served as FDR’s Industrial Commissioner during his time as governor There, she worked on legislation that contributed to the state’s recognition as a pioneer in labor reform and industrial safety. She was also executive secretary of the Consumers League of New York, responsible for enactment in the state legislature of the Jackson-McManus Bill, which set the maximum number of hours factory women could work in one week at 54.
In Washington, Perkins was involved with some of the most important pieces of labor legislation in the history of the United States including: the National Industrial Recovery Act; the U.S. Employment Service; the National Labor Relations Act guaranteeing workers the right to organize and bargain collectively; the Social Security Act; the Fair Labor Standards Act providing minimum wages and time-and-a-half for overtime; and a series of acts regulating child labor and raising the working age to 16.
In 1945, she accepted an appointment as a member of the Civil Service Commission, a post she would hold until her retirement in 1953. Perkins continued to teach and lecture around the country until her death in 1965.