Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Frances Perkins (1945–1945): Secretary of Labor

Frances Perkins was born April 10, 1882, in Boston, Massachusetts. She studied sociology and economics at Mount Holyoke College and continued her education at the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University, earning a master's degree in 1913. While still in school, Perkins became involved in social work and entered the political arena to become a more effective spokeswoman for her cause.

She was a member of the New York Industrial Commission (1919-1921), director of the Council of Immigrant Education (1921-1923), and a member of the State Industrial Board (1923-1929), becoming chairman in 1926. Under Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, Perkins was head of the New York State Department of Labor from 1929 to 1933.

When Roosevelt became President, he tapped Perkins to become secretary of labor, making her the first woman to hold a cabinet post. Perkins would serve in that capacity from 1933 to 1945; she was also chair of the Committee on Economic Security. Perkins later became a member of the Federal Civil Service Commission under President Harry S. Truman (1946-1952).

After leaving government, she was affiliated with the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations as a lecturer on labor issues. She published The Roosevelt I Knew (1946) and was inducted into the Labor Hall of Fame in 1988. Frances Perkins died on May 14, 1965, in New York City.