We were thrilled to read, recently, that Harriet Tubman will appear on the $20 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson; the anti-slavery activist will be the first African-American to appear on U.S. paper currency, and the first woman in over a century. (Pocahontas appeared on the $20 bill in 1865, and Martha Washington appeared on the $1 silver certificate throughout the 1890s.)
Women on 20s
, a non-profit, grassroots organization, helped to propel this initiative forward, nominating 100 accomplished American women based on their contributions to society and the level of difficulty they experienced trying to pursue them. In addition to the many incredible and talented women they nominated, from Rosa Parks to Eleanor Roosevelt, they also put forth Frances Perkins' name. Perkins was a long-time colleague of FDR, four-time labor secretary, and the first woman to serve in the U.S. cabinet. She drafted the Social Security Act of 1935, and was a champion of workers' rights, establishing unemployment benefits, and defining the 40-hour work week.
An excerpt from fdr4freedoms.org, Frances Perkins: Madam Secretary follows.
There had never been a woman in the cabinet before Frances Perkins. Moreover, all previous secretaries of labor had come with strong ties to a specific union. Perkins did not. Political cronies traditionally staffed the labor department. Perkins replaced them and refused to let political or union affiliation define qualifications for employment on her staff.
Like Franklin D. Roosevelt, she appreciated unions but thought the best way to improve workers' lives was to raise wages, shorten hours, and ensure safe workplaces—often through protective regulation. She wanted working Americans to feel respected and to have the ability to buy what they needed.
This approach—together with her refusal to make politically motivated appointments and her well-known dislike of the press—made Perkins an unusual labor secretary.
Initially, none of the labor leaders, members of the press, or senior labor department staff expected her to last longer than a few months. When they met with her, they stumbled. They could not even agree on how they should address her. Call me "Madam Secretary," Perkins replied.
Madam Secretary led the department for twelve years and helped FDR revolutionize America's attitude toward workers and organized labor.
Continue the story here.