Roosevelt to Appoint First-Ever Female Cabinet Member

Roosevelt to Appoint First-Ever Female Cabinet Member

Roosevelt to Appoint First-Ever Female Cabinet Member

“Here is a lost cause no longer lost, but come to triumphant success, and if the pioneers of that cause are looking down upon this scene, there will be rejoicing in heaven on the fourth day of March.”


“Here is a lost cause no longer lost, but come to triumphant success, and if the pioneers of that cause are looking down upon this scene, there will be rejoicing in heaven on the fourth day of March.”

Really, the news that Frances Perkins is to be appointed to the Cabinet of the United States is one of the most inspiring and encouraging events of recent years. My mind is running far back as I write. I am thinking of the pioneers who first declared that woman was man’s equal in all respects and as such entitled not only to vote but to hold any office within the gift of the American people. How they were derided, how they were laughed at, how they were subjected to vile abuse, and even physical assault! No one can realize what such sensitive and lovely women as Lucy Stone and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Angelina Grimké, Lucretia Mott, and many others had to suffer when first they dared to take part in the anti-slavery and woman-suffrage agitation nearly one hundred years ago. Indeed, the famous “broadcloth mob” which dragged William Lloyd Garrison through the streets of Boston with a rope around his waist was roused to violence as much by the fact that a group of Boston women had so unsexed themselves as to organize an anti-slavery society and hold a public meeting as by the fact that the society was to be addressed by an English agitator for human rights, George Thompson. Indeed, in 1840 the first World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London refused to seat the American “female delegates” on the ground that for any woman to take part in a public meeting was improper and degrading to the sex!

I remember, too, in later years, the first parade for woman’s suffrage held in New York City in which men took part. I was one of the eighty-five members of the sterner sex who were booed and hissed and asked: “Did your wife make you do it?” all the way down Fifth Avenue to Washington Square. Not one of us was sure then that we would live to see the enfranchisement of women, much less be present to rejoice when a woman took her seat in the Cabinet room of the White House. Here is a lost cause no longer lost, but come to triumphant success, and if the pioneers of that cause are looking down upon this scene, there will be rejoicing in heaven on the fourth day of March. And this rejoicing should be doubly vociferous because of the character and achievements of Frances Perkins herself. These the editors of The Nation are treating elsewhere. I can only add my “me, too.” But I am particularly pleased that Frances Perkins is a Lucy Stoner–in other words, she has kept her maiden name although happily married and the mother of a most promising daughter. In this hour of depression when the pernicious doctrine is being preached that married women should be debarred from employment by the local, state, and federal governments if there happens to be a husband or another male member of the family who is also working, it is wonderful, indeed, to have Franklin Roosevelt pick not only an extraordinarily able woman of proved ability in public office, but one whose husband is also a wage-earner. That ought to stop a great deal of the mischievous propaganda which could only work infinite harm if it should lead to the adoption of this proposal as a nation-wide policy. No State has the right to deny a woman a job, not even in times of unemployment, if she wants it, has earned it , and is capable of doing it well. Here we have another one of those real issues of personal liberty that ought never to be abridged by sex, or race, or color.

I am so bold as to believe also that the new President has set an example which will be followed in the years to come as a matter of course, as it has been the custom ever since the coming of suffrage to give women their place on the national party committees. No one thinks that that unsexes them; no one now thinks that the women orators in the national conventions are out of place, or the women delegates on the floor. No one maintains that the women governors who have been chosen have suffered thereby–“Ma” Ferguson, I fancy, is just about the same woman that she was when she first became Governor. I admit that we have had several unfortunate cases, notably one in New York State, in which women office-holders have played us false. But we have no right to expect women in office to be more upright than men similarly placed; we can only hope that they will do better than the men. But whether they do or not, a share in the actual management of our State and national businesses is their inalienable right. So I should not be surprised if every succeeding Cabinet hereafter had one or more women in it. Certainly, if a Republican Administration should succeed Mr. Roosevelt’s, it would be hard for it not to “recognize the women voters” in this way.

But after all, I come back to the fact that we need not worry the least bit about this first woman Cabinet member. Her attractive personality, her strength of character, her devotion to the truth which made her leap to the exposure of the misleading statistics of unemployment given (FW. by Mr. Hoover’s Administration, all give no room for question as to what her record will be. Also she is a forwardlooking person, in touch with all reform movements, sympathetic to social control and social responsibility. It will be wonderful to have her in the place of the incredible Mr. Doak, and of the money-grabbing former Secretary of Labor, the present Senator from Pennsylvania, James J. Davis, who is now awaiting trial upon an indictment for misusing the mails. Those were “professional” labor men. They served the cause of labor and their country just about as badly as possible. They stood for hatred, bitterness, bigoted intolerance, and narrow-minded and cruel interpretation of the labor and immigration laws. When I think of Frances Perkins’s point of view and attitude, her humanity, wisdom and statesmanship, it seems to me that she will be an , angel at the Cabinet table in contrast with the sordidness and the inhumanity of her predecessors. I, for one, pledge myself here and now never to cease to be grateful to Franklin Roosevelt for this brave and just and wise action–no matter what fate may have in store for him and his Administration.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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