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Honoring Frances Perkins - An Incredible New England Legacy

This month we celebrate the 79th anniversary of Social Security being signed into law. Since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act in 1935, the program has helped millions of Americans and that number only continues to grow. Most Americans are aware of Social Security and likely know someone who benefits from it, but few know of the woman that was instrumental in the creation and passage of Social Security- Frances Perkins.

Though Frances Perkins was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1880, her roots are considered to be in Maine. Both of her parents grew up in Maine and during her childhood, she would often come back to spend the summers with her grandmother at the family's farm in Newcastle. Perkins described her grandmother as, "an extremely wise woman- worldly wise as well as spiritually wise. I am extraordinarily the product of my grandmother." Frances Perkins would go on to become a wise and worldly woman herself, and an inspirational woman who had a great impact on American history.

Photo from the Frances Perkins Center

Perkins graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1902, a time when it was very rare for a woman to attend college at all. It was during her time in college that Frances Perkins began to truly recognize the poverty that was all around her and the unsafe working conditions men, women, and even children had to endure. She became passionate about improving the economic state of the country as well as improving the lives of those living in poverty.

In 1910, Frances Perkins became the Executive Secretary of the New York City Consumers League where she focused on the need for sanitary regulations in bakeries, fire protection in factory buildings, and legislation that would limit the number of hours women and children could work in factories (to 54 hours per week!). Then, in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Frances Perkins the U.S. Secretary of Labor, making her the first woman to serve as a cabinet secretary. During her time as the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins was instrumental in the creation, development, and passage of landmark legislation, including: New Deal job programs, the Fair Labor Standards Act, maximum work hours per week, minimum wage, restriction on child labor, and, most notably, the Social Security Act. This act established a system of national retirement pensions, unemployment compensation, and worker's compensation for disabled Americans. This August will mark the 79th Anniversary of the passage of the Social Security Act.

Today, over 57 million Americans receive Social Security and a large percentage of people in Maine receive Social Security benefits. In fact, nearly one in four Maine residents receives Social Security and 94% of Mainers age 65 and older are beneficiaries. Just imagine how different life would be for all of those people in Maine and across the nation if it weren't for the work of Frances Perkins.

If you would like to learn more about Frances Perkin's life and accomplishments, click here to visit the Frances Perkins Center website.

Our thanks to the Frances Perkins Center for their tireless efforts to honor Frances Perkins' legacy and their efforts to serve as a champion of Social Security itself in the state of Maine.


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