The Woman Behind the New Deal
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Included in this act were minimum hourly wages and maximum weekly hours. With the exception of Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes — , Perkins was Roosevelt's longest-serving cabinet member, remaining at her post from until shortly after Roosevelt's death in Perkins remained friends with Dewson, and years later she still recalled how Dewson's encouragement helped bring about her acceptance of the cabinet position.
Throughout her term as secretary of labor, Perkins was remarkably successful at developing solutions that would protect the rights of workers while promoting economic recovery from the Great Depression. By , 19 percent of government employees were women, 5 percent more than ten years earlier. The women's rate of federal employment was increasing twice as fast as the men's, but it was doing so only in specific areas of government—in the new federal agencies providing work relief and social security programs. Woodward oversaw the work of , women on work relief projects such as sewing, library work, public health programs, educational programs, and research services.
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Dewson had recommended Woodward to the WPA's head, Harry Hopkins — , and considered the appointment one of her proudest achievements. Dewson also played a hand in Nellie Tayloe Ross 's appointment as the first woman director of the U. Another first for women was Ruth Bryan Owen's — appointment as minister to Denmark, a political position just below that of ambassador. Through her political network Dewson frequently organized letter-writing campaigns to push for certain appointments.
As a result of one of these campaigns, Florence Allen — was named to the U. Although Dewson always downplayed her personal responsibility for placing these and other women in their New Deal positions, her perseverance and close relationship with the Roosevelts certainly contributed to the number of women in New Deal programs. Dewson and Eleanor Roosevelt agreed that women's energy and idealism would bring out the humanitarian side of government, its growing concern for the welfare of human beings.
The concept of the federal government caring for its citizens' well-being first emerged in the United States in the s, in response to the extreme hardships brought on by the Great Depression. Mary McLeod Bethune — became the first black American woman to head a federal agency. The NYA was designed to meet the educational and employment needs of America's youths.
Bethune successfully oversaw the administration of funds for black schools and educational programs. From to she also held the title of Special Advisor on Minority Affairs. She was the unofficial leader of Roosevelt's "Black Cabinet," various black federal officials who served as an informal advisory group to the president.
Hallie Flanagan — was another prominent woman in the New Deal.
The FTP provided work relief for those who had been employed in theater production before the economic crisis of the Great Depression eliminated most of their jobs. The FTP was highly controversial from the start: Many people argued that it was ridiculous to spend public funds to employ actors and artists. Nevertheless, Flanagan developed the program with determination, and the FTP eventually employed more than twelve thousand actors, directors, set artists, stage-hands, and others in over twenty-eight states.
Collectively they staged productions in more than theaters. Many productions were free to the public, and, because of this, many Americans got their first introduction to live plays and musicals. Eleanor Roosevelt — , the wife of President Franklin Roosevelt, was a woman of great energy who had wide-ranging interests. While her husband was governor of New York —33 , Eleanor was highly active in the Democratic State Committee; she also continued participating in the WTUL, published articles, and became an accomplished public speaker on social reform.
As First Lady, Eleanor, a reformer and women's rights advocate, worked with Dewson to see that many women were placed in government posts, and beginning on March 6, , she started holding weekly women-only press conferences.
From to she held over five hundred of these conferences for women journalists in the hopes of opening journalism jobs for women and giving women a better understanding of legislative and political life. In Eleanor began to write a newspaper column, "My Day," commenting on current issues. Eleanor used her position to advance a number of causes, including the rights of women and improvement of working conditions, and she attended to issues of unemployed women. She championed miners' rights and the rights of black Americans.
In she resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution after black American singer Marian Anderson — was denied use of their performance hall. Over seventy-five thousand men and women came to listen to the concert. She was a journalist and one of the first women to work for the Associated Press. A hard-hitting newswoman, she was assigned to cover Eleanor Roosevelt on the campaign trail. A close friendship developed between the two women, and Hickok soon became a part of the New Deal administration. Soon after his inauguration in , President Roosevelt established the Federal Emergency Relief Administration FERA to get immediate relief to desperate Americans, who were struggling to survive the economic crisis known as the Great Depression.
Hopkins in turn hired Lore-na Hickok away from the Associated Press to be his chief investigator. Rather than having Hickok compile more statistics, Hopkins asked her to travel the nation and report to him the conditions she found firsthand. From the summer of until the end of , Hickok went into the most afflicted areas of the country and reported back to Hopkins.
During her tour she met with politicians, civil leaders, and officials from state and local relief programs, to find out how well the New Deal programs were running. She frequently was sent to investigate communities in crisis, whether from labor problems or natural disasters.
Likewise, she checked up on localities where Hopkins had reason to suspect New Deal programs were being unfairly administered. The information Hickok provided to Hopkins helped him improve coordination between Washington, D.
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In the eyes of politically active women, one black mark on Roosevelt's New Deal administration was Roosevelt's continuation of Section of the Economy Act, originally signed into law by President Herbert Hoover —; served —33 near the end of The section, which Molly Dewson referred to as "that dumb clause," stipulated that married persons could not be employed by the federal government at the same time. Over sixteen hundred federally employed married couples were affected by this legislation, and although the act did not state that wives should be the first to resign, the majority of people who did resign or who were fired were women.
In May women's organizations demanded that Section be voided.
Feminomics: Breaking New Ground - Women and the New Deal - Roosevelt Institute
However, President Roosevelt was not eager to change the law since it had a lot of public support. Many people believed women working outside the home took jobs away from men who desperately needed work during the Depression. Also, many Americans thought women working outside the home weakened the family unit.
When the U. The only opposition to the law from the White House came from Eleanor Roosevelt.
Frances Perkins: The Woman behind the New Deal
She believed that the decision for a woman to work outside the home should rest with the family, not Congress. Section was finally repealed in July with the passage of the Celler bill, which prohibited discrimination based on marital status. The bill bore the name of Congressman Emmanuel Celler of New York who, along with representatives from various woman's organizations, had fought for several years for Section 's repeal.
There were other instances of discrimination against women, even within the New Deal itself. For example, the. Nellie Tayloe Ross — : First woman appointed as director of the U. Mint , where she remained until retirement in before appointment at the mint, Ross was a national figure in the Democratic Party's women's activities and had served as governor of Wyoming from to By she was special assistant to the Social Security Board's legal staff.
National Recovery Administration NRA codes established minimum wages for men and women, but in practice, wages for women workers could remain considerably lower than those for men. Each an entity "tainted" with self interest that needs to be balanced against the other two. She seems to have been one of the first to see Consumer rights as part of the equation and she was always trying to even up the balance between the three.
View 1 comment. Jun 18, Mikey B. But a woman smarter than a man and also not afraid of a man, well, good night. She was the first woman to be in the Cabinet women were only given the vote in She accomplished a great deal: a federal law abolishing child labor, a forty hour work week, workers compensation prior to this if a worker was injured on the job he was on his own , a minimum wage although this could vary by state , unemployment relief, social security as in old age pensions.
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All of these today are sacrosanct. She also tried to introduce universal health care — but the struggle for that goes on to this day! Also during her tenure the strength of unions and the ability of workers to unionize increased. Frances Perkins wanted workers to have rights — and she passed legislation ensuring this. We follow her upbringing as she came to abandon her staid middle class roots to become more socially involved. She became a social activist in New York City and was very adept at making numerous contacts — among them Franklin Roosevelt when he was Governor of New York.