On this day in 1933, the day FDR was inaugurated as president, the Senate confirmed his appointment of Frances Perkins as secretary of labor, making her the first woman to become a member of the cabinet. The Nation’s Oswald Garrison Villard, editor until earlier that year, wrote in his column “Issues and Men” (to which title he cheekily added, for this occasion, “And a Woman—Frances Perkins”) that he, a longtime feminist, would be forever grateful to FDR for the appointment.
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!….
I am particularly pleased that Frances Perkins…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….
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 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.
To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.