Film, Video Frances Perkins, the Woman Behind FDR

About this Item


  • Frances Perkins, the Woman Behind FDR


  • Although she is no longer a household name, Frances Perkins was one of the most influential people of the 20th century. Kirstin Downey discussed her new book, "The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR's Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience."Franklin Delano Roosevelt named Frances Perkins secretary of labor 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' ideas became the cornerstones of the most important social-welfare programs and legislation in the nation's history, including unemployment compensation, child-labor laws and the 40-hour workweek. 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. Based on eight years of research, extensive archival materials, new documents and exclusive access to Perkins' family members and friends, this biography is the first complete portrait of a devoted public servant with a passionate personal life and a mother who changed the landscape of American business and society.

Event Date

  • March 23, 2009


  • -  Kirstin Downey, an award-winning journalist at The Washington Post from 1988 to 2008, is a business reporter whose work has focused on illuminating the human implications of important financial trends, particularly boom-and-bust cycles in the modern economy. Downey's coverage of the aftermath of the savings-and-loan debacle of the late 1980s won her several regional press association awards.

Running Time

  • 1 hours 54 seconds

Online Format

  • video
  • image

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Credit Line: Library of Congress

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Chicago citation style:

Frances Perkins, the Woman Behind FDR. 2009. Video.

APA citation style:

(2009) Frances Perkins, the Woman Behind FDR. [Video] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

MLA citation style:

Frances Perkins, the Woman Behind FDR. 2009. Video. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.