The Woman Behind the New Deal

The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR'S Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience

By Kirstin Downey
(Nan A. Talese, Hardcover, 9780385513654, 480pp.)

Publication Date: March 3, 2009

List Price: $35.00*
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Description

Frances Perkins is no longer a household name, yet she was one of the most influential women of the twentieth century. Based on eight years of research, extensive archival materials, new documents, and exclusive access to Perkins’s family members and friends, this biography is 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.

Frances Perkins was named Secretary of Labor by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. 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.

Arriving in Washington at the height of the Great Depression, Perkins pushed for massive public works projects that created millions of jobs for unemployed workers. She breathed life back into the nation’s labor movement, boosting living standards across the country. 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.

Written with a wit that echoes Frances Perkins’s own, award-winning journalist Kirstin Downey gives us a riveting exploration of how and why Perkins slipped into historical oblivion, and restores Perkins to her proper place in history.




About the Author

KIRSTIN DOWNEY is a frequent contributor to The Washington Post, where she was a staff writer from 1988 to 2008, winning press association awards for her business and economic reporting. She shared in the 2008 Pulitzer Prize awarded to the Post staff for its coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings. In 2000, she was awarded a Nieman fellowship at Harvard University. She lives in Washington, D.C.




NPR
Wednesday, Dec 23, 2009

Many of the picks from Fresh Air's book critic look back at tough times from earlier eras, or lives upended by disaster. The best books of the year include a work of nonfiction that reveals the hidden fantasy land of a founder of American industry, and a novel that doesn't apologize for the bad behavior of its characters. Plus, a bonus mystery pick. More at NPR.org

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