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Question of the Month

From the Catherwood Library reference librarians

January 2003

PLEASE NOTE: The Reference Question of the Month is kept current only during the month for which it was written. Archived questions will not be updated, and over time may contain inaccurate information or broken web links. We provide archived questions as a service, since much of the information will remain accurate and of continued interest to the ILR community.

Question: Who was Frances Perkins?

Answer: Most ILR students are aware that Frances Perkins was at one time on the faculty of the ILR School. Below is a brief summary of her accomplishments, which included many firsts.

  • ILR School faculty member
    France Perkins began her career here as a guest lecturer in 1955, when she was 75 years old. She was soon asked to be a member of our faculty and taught ILR students until her death in 1965. Her very popular course was on the New Deal.
  • Witness to the Triangle Factory Fire
    Ms. Perkins was having tea with a friend who lived near Washington Square on March 25, 1911. They heard fire bells, and rushed across the Square to see the Triangle Factory engulfed in flames. In response to the tragedy, the Factory Investigating Commission was formed. Frances Perkins served on the Commission, which was instrumental in rewriting factory codes and enacting new laws that protected workers.
  • First woman to reside in Cornell's Telluride House
    Ms. Perkins lived at Telluride House on West Avenue in Ithaca from 1960 to 1965. (The first female Telluride member was Laura Wolfowitz, who became part of the Association in 1962.)
  • Served longer than anyone else as U. S. Secretary of Labor
    Frances Perkins was Secretary of Labor for twelve years from 1933-1945. In 1980, the Frances Perkins Building, which houses the Department of Labor was dedicated.
  • One time highest paid state employee in the United States
    In 1918, Ms. Perkins was paid a salary of $8,000 as a member of the New York State Industrial Commission.
  • First Woman Cabinet Member
    She was appointed to the post by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, after serving under him as Industrial Commissioner of the State of New York. Her tenure as Secretary of Labor is punctuated by many radical recovery efforts and labor reforms. Among them was the establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the enactment of the Social Security, National Labor Relations, and Fair Labor Standands Acts, and other economic security provisions.

Frances Perkins was a key leader in the advancement of industrial and labor relations. It is an honor that she chose to spend her final days at Cornell's ILR School.


  • ILR Reference AG5.K315 1981
    Kane, Joseph Nathan. (1981)
    Famous First Facts: A Record of First Happenings, Discoveries, and Inventions in American History. (4th ed.).
    New York: H.W. Wilson.
    This classic reference source provides references to many firsts. It's great for trivia buffs.
  • ILR Reference LD1389.5.N53 I25 1996
    McKersie, Robert B., et al. (1996)
    The ILR School at Fifty: Voices of the Faculty, Alumni & Friends.
    Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University.
    This book was compiled by former and Emeritus faculty members in honor of our School's fiftieth anniversary. Remembrances from alumni, faculty, and staff are augmented by pictures from the Kheel Center.
  • Triangle Factory Fire
    An excerpt from Frances Perkin's lecture on the Triangle Fire can be found here as well as many other documents, pictures, and oral histories pertaining to the and to the New York (State) Factory Investigating Commission.
  • Telluride Association
    More information about and history of Cornell's Telluride Association can be found on its web site.
  • U.S. Department of Labor's Portrait of Frances Perkins
    The DOL provides short portraits of all of its Secretaries on its Timeline, starting with William B. Wilson (1913-1921) and continuing to Elaine Chou, the current Secretary.
  • The Life and Work of Frances Perkins
    This site contains a concise biography of Frances Perkins written by Gordon Berg. Several pictures are included. Similar material is found in Frances Perkins and the following of socioeconomic policies that appeared in the June 1989 Monthly Labor Review and also in Mr. Berg's essay marking the dedication of the Frances Perkins Building.
  • Frances Perkins: Pioneer of Social Security
    The Social Security Administration has compiled a web site devoted to its patron. Links to photos, audio clips, and documents are provided.
  • AFL-CIO: World's Greatest Online Labor Day Festival: Frances Perkins
    At this site, the AFL-CIO honors Ms. Perkins with a brief biography listing her contributions to the labor movement.

Books by Frances Perkins

  • ILR HD8072.P36
    Perkins, Frances. (1934)
    People at Work.
    New York, N.Y.: The John Day Company.
  • ILR E807.P4
    Perkins, Frances. (1946)
    The Roosevelt I Knew.
    New York, N.Y.: The Viking Press.
  • ILR HD8072.T88
    Perkins, Frances, and Joseph Paul St. Sure. (1965)
    Two Views of American Labor.
    Los Angeles, C.A.: Institute of Industrial Relations University of California.
  • ILR Fiche 109
    Perkins, Frances, and Dean Albertson. (1977)
    The Reminiscences of Frances Perkins.
    Glen Rock, N.J.: Microfilming Corp. of America.

Commission Reports

  • ILR HD8053.N7 A5 1914
    New York (State) Factory Investigating Commission., et al. (1914)
    Third Report of the Factory Investigating Commission, 1914.
    Albany, N.Y.: J. B. Lyon Company Printers.
  • ILR HD8053.N7 A5 1915
    New York (State) Factory Investigating Commission., et al. (1915).
    Fourth Report of the Factory Investigating Commission, 1915.
    Albany, N.Y.: J. B. Lyon Company Printers.
  • ILR HD7123.A55 1935c
    United States Committee on Economic Security and Frances Perkins. (1935)
    Report to the President of the Committee on Economic Security.
    Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Books About Frances Perkins

  • ILR HD8073.P38 L3
    Lawson, Don. (1966)
    Frances Perkins, First Lady of the Cabinet.
    London, New York, etc.: Abelard-Schuman.
  • ILR Fiche 513
    Anderson, James Russell. (1968)
    The New Deal Career of Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, 1933-1939.
    Cleveland, O.H.
  • ILR HD8073.P38 M9
    Myers, Elisabeth P. (1972)
    Madam Secretary: Frances Perkins.
    New York, N.Y.: J. Messner.
  • ILR HD8073.P38 M37
    Martin, George Whitney. (1976)
    Madam Secretary, Frances Perkins.
    Boston, M.A.: Houghton Mifflin.
  • ILR HD8073.P38 S49 1976
    Severn, Bill. (1976)
    Frances Perkins: A Member of the Cabinet.
    New York, N.Y.: Hawthorn Books.
  • ILR HD8073.P38 M63
    Mohr, Lillian Holmen. (1979)
    Frances Perkins, That Woman in FDR's Cabinet!
    Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.: North River Press.
  • ILR Fiche 109
    Perkins, Frances, and Dean Albertson. (1977)
    The Reminiscences of Frances Perkins.
    Glen Rock, N.J.: Microfilming Corp. of America.
  • ILR HD8073.P38 D29
    Dedication of the Frances Perkins Building. (April 10, 1980)
    Washington, D.C.: Department of Labor.
  • ILR Kheel Center HD8073.P38 W24 1995 Rare
    Wandersee, Winifred D. (1995)
    Be Ye Stedfast I.E. Steadfast: Frances Perkins to Mid-Life.
  • ILR HD8073.P38 P37 1999
    Pasachoff, Naomi E. (1999)
    Frances Perkins: Champion of the New Deal.
    New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press.

Additional Research

The majority of Frances Perkins' papers are housed at Columbia University.

The Kheel Center at Cornell has a collection of the lectures that Ms. Perkins delivered at the ILR School. It has other material pertaining to Frances Perkins among its various labor holdings.

Mt. Holyoke College, where Frances Perkins completed her undergraduate studies, has a small collection of her papers

Archival material can also be located by searching the Cornell Library Catalog and the RLIN , Archives USA, and WorldCat databases, all available from the CUL's Library Gateway. Non-Cornell users can search for archival holdings using RLIN AMC File.

Periodical Articles

Find abstracts of articles about U.S. history, using America: History and Life and Historical Abstracts or PCI available to Cornell users via the Library Gateway.

Full text articles can be found in the JSTOR collection, also available from the Library Gateway.

— Researched by skl2