There are a few things more core to the American way of life than the safety net instituted by The New Deal, and it turns out that a woman who is hardly known today was "the moving force" behind it all.
In a lively, engaging, and detailed book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Kirstin Downey, it was Frances Perkins who laid out the reforms that President Roosevelt would have to back before she would accept the post as America's first female Secretary of Labor.
"She ticked off the items: a 40-hour workweek, a minimum wage, workers compensation, unemployment compensation, a federal law banning child labor, direct federal aid for unemployment relief, Social Security, a revitalized public employment service, and health insurance.... The scope of her list was breathtaking. She was proposing a fundamental and radical restructuring of American Society, with enactment of historic social welfare and labor laws."
Robert B. Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, says that "Francis Perkins was the moving force behind much of [The New Deal]. Her legacy included … initiatives that have improved the lives of generations of Americans."
And her daughter nagged her into championing the WPA's inclusion of artists, which is responsible for some of the excellent murals in public buildings by Diego Rivera and others.
According to influential authors studying the period, "Francis Perkins (was) a fierce advocate who put people first, a public servant who was actually worthy of the name, and a bracing reminder of what inspired government can do."