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Frances Perkins: Mother of Social Reform

In one tragic moment, March 25, 1911, the trajectory of Frances Perkins life would change forever. Frances was having tea with friends in New York City when she heard the fire engines close by and she bolted to see what was happening. As she ran down the street, she was horrified as she helplessly witnessed women jump from a burning building to their death onto the streets of New York.

In all, 146 workers died in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire that infamous day. The women workers had been locked into the top floors of a shirtwaist factory when a fire started and the women could not escape. That image rooted in the mind and heart of Frances for the rest of her life. She spent her life fighting the deplorable working conditions for sweatshop workers around the country.

In 1929, the new governor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, appointed Perkins industrial commissioner of the state of New York. Frances Perkins championed the workers’ causes, such as unemployment insurance and minimum wage. President Roosevelt later appointed her as labor secretary in 1933, where she also chaired the Committee on Economic Security. This committee developed and drafted the legislation that became the Social Security Act in 1935.

Frances Perkins is our Mindful Hero because this woman, born of great privilege and wealth, chose to use all of her gifts to transform the working conditions of the masses.

Bless you for your passion and commitment to others, Frances Perkins. Listen to an archive story of Frances Perkins on NPR.

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