Worcester’s Own Woman in History
March is Women’s History Month. One notable female deserving of recognition is Worcester’s own daughter, Frances Perkins. This 20th century doer made an indelible mark in the rights of workers. Here are some particulars surrounding this remarkable woman.
Fannie Coralee Perkins was born in 1880 in Boston, Massachusetts (she later changed her name to Frances). Her family was of comfortable means and relocated to Worcester when Perkins was only two. Her father, an intellectually lively man, opened a successful stationery business and consistently encouraged his daughter’s penchant for learning. In fact, when Perkins was eight, he taught her how to read Greek. She attended the prestigious Worcester Classical Academy, a feat considerably uncommon for women of her day.
Following high school, Perkins entered Mt. Holyoke College. Her studies at the higher learning institution, at least in part, roused her awareness regarding the plight of poverty, unfair practices in the workplace, unsanitary living conditions, and discriminatory wages.
After graduating from Mt. Holyoke, Perkins returned to Worcester where she taught school and advocated for social reform. She later accepted a teaching position in Chicago and then obtained a Master’s degree from Columbia. During her time in New York, Perkins held state government positions, fighting vigorously for industrial reform. Her laudable efforts earned the respect of various politicians.
In 1918, Perkins entered the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where she studied economics and sociology. In 1929, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then-governor of New York, appointed the noteworthy lady Commissioner of the New York State Department of Labor. While in the critical role, Perkins vehemently petitioned for improvements like hourly limits on the workweek, the ceasing of child labor, and the implementation of a minimum wage and unemployment insurance.
In 1932, FDR was elected President of the United States. In 1933, he named Frances Perkins to the position of Secretary of Labor. This was an unprecedented act, as Perkins became the first woman to serve in a Presidential Cabinet. Impressively, she held the job until 1945. During her tenure, she passionately fought for equitable conditions in the workplace and even held a pivotal role in writing New Deal legislation.
Frances Perkins passed away in 1965. Unforgettably during her lifetime, she steadfastly devoted her ambitions to bettering the lives of others. For that reason, it seems only natural to reflect upon her momentous achievements, particularly during Women’s History Month. For additional reading on this topic, go to www.mtholyoke.edu.