Frances Perkins, Florence Kelley, Jane Addams, feminist pragmatism, New Deal, Child Labor, National Consumers League


Women's Studies


Frances Perkins, the first female Cabinet member, was the creative force behind most New Deal legislation. She was responsible for Social Security and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. These bills instituted federal policies that had been the focus of women social reformers starting in the 1890s. The forty-year struggle for the abolition of child labor, labor safety standards, minimum wage, and eight-hour workdays had been led by current and former Hull House residents, such as Jane Addams and Florence Kelley. Perkins was a former Hull House resident and was mentored and supported by Kelley and a network of women reform advocates. Perkins dedicated her life to industrial reform after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, a decision that eventually led her to Washington as the Secretary of Labor. Perkins was FDR's Secretary of Labor for 12 years. Although she was one of the most productive cabinet secretaries in history, her time as the first female Madam Secretary made her the target of opposition from the media and other politicians.

Original Citation

Judy D. Whipps. (2022, September 15). Frances Perkins and the Women Reformers Behind the New Deal. GVSU Grand Forum, Grand Valley State University.