The Woman Behind the New Deal by Kirstin Downey
The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR'S Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience

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Synopsis

“Kirstin Downey’s lively, substantive and—dare I say—inspiring new biography of Perkins . . . not only illuminates Perkins’ career but also deepens the known contradictions of Roosevelt’s character.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR Fresh Air
 
One of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s closest friends and the first female secretary of labor, Perkins capitalized on the president’s political savvy and popularity to enact most of the Depression-era programs that are today considered essential parts of the country’s social safety network.

Frances Perkins is no longer a household name, yet she was one of the most influential women of the twentieth century. Based on eight years of research, extensive archival materials, new documents, and exclusive access to Perkins’s family members and friends, this biography is the first complete portrait of a devoted public servant with a passionate personal life, a mother who changed the landscape of American business and society.

Frances Perkins was named Secretary of Labor by Franklin Roosevelt 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’s ideas became the cornerstones of the most important social welfare and legislation in the nation’s history, including unemployment compensation, child labor laws, and the forty-hour work week.

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.

Written with a wit that echoes Frances Perkins’s own, award-winning journalist Kirstin Downey gives us a riveting exploration of how and why Perkins slipped into historical oblivion, and restores Perkins to her proper place in history.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
 

About Kirstin Downey

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KIRSTIN DOWNEY is a frequent contributor to The Washington Post, where she was a staff writer from 1988 to 2008, winning press association awards for her business and economic reporting. She shared in the 2008 Pulitzer Prize awarded to the Post staff for its coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings. In 2000, she was awarded a Nieman fellowship at Harvard University. She lives in Washington, D.C.
 
Published March 3, 2009 by Anchor. 480 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences, Travel. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Woman Behind the New Deal

Kirkus Reviews

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Frances Perkins (1880–1965) had clearly delineated goals: reasonable working hours and wages, fire safety, improved working conditions and the end of child labor.

Dec 01 2008 | Read Full Review of The Woman Behind the New Deal...

Publishers Weekly

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At a time when the United States stands at the brink of another economic meltdown calling for sweeping federal interventions, Downey provides not only a superb rendering of history but also a large dose of inspiration drawn from Perkins's clearheaded, decisive work with FDR to solve urgent proble...

Dec 15 2008 | Read Full Review of The Woman Behind the New Deal...

BC Books

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If it wasn’t for Frances Perkins and the New Deal, none of these things would exist today, and life would be a lot more difficult for a vast number of people.

Apr 18 2010 | Read Full Review of The Woman Behind the New Deal...

BC Books

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The name of Frances Perkins is pretty much forgotten today, but her New Deal legacy will live on forever.

Apr 18 2010 | Read Full Review of The Woman Behind the New Deal...

Book Reporter

The book also lays bare the scars Perkins earned from her difficult personal life with a husband immobilized for many years by severe mental illness, and a wrenchingly dysfunctional relationship with her only child, Susanna, herself a victim of mental illness.

Jan 24 2011 | Read Full Review of The Woman Behind the New Deal...

USA Today

FDR's mistress, mother and wife have all gotten plenty of ink.Now, the woman who was Franklin Delano Roosevelt's social conscience Labor Secretary Frances Perkins is getting some well-deserved attention.Kirstin Downey's excellent new biography of Perkins, The Woman Behind the New Deal, is timed...

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