'Honoring Women in Public Service': Frances Perkins Wilson

  • Published
  • By Tanya Lambert
  • Women's History Month Committee
Throughout March the Women's History Month committee will honor women who have shaped America's history and its future through public service and government leadership as part of this year's theme, "Honoring Women in Public Service."

Do you know who the first woman appointed to a United States cabinet position was? Frances Perkins Wilson, born in Boston on April 10, 1880, served as the U.S. secretary of labor from March 1933 to July 1945 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

She and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes were the only original members of President Roosevelt's cabinet to remain in office throughout his presidency.

Born to Susan Bean Perkins and Frederick W. Perkins, both originally from Maine, Secretary Perkins spent much of her childhood in Worcester, Massachusetts, and attended Worcester Classical High School.

As labor secretary, Perkins wrote New Deal legislation that included minimum-wage laws. Following her tenure as secretary of labor in 1945, Perkins was asked by President Harry Truman to serve on the U.S. Civil Service Commission, which she did until 1952.

Perkins would have been famous simply by being the first woman cabinet member, but her legacy stems from her other accomplishments as well. She was largely responsible for the U.S. adoption of social security, unemployment insurance, federal laws regulating child labor and more.

Perkins died on May 14, 1965.

In 1980, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., was named the Frances Perkins Building in her honor.

To learn more about Perkins, visit https://www.ssa.gov/history/fpbiossa.html.

Now you know about an early leader from Massachusetts who paved the way for women to serve this great nation.