Frances Perkins was Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, the first woman to hold a cabinet position and she got there on her own merits. She served from 1933 to 1945 and was instrumental in getting many of the New Deal laws and programs off the ground and working. Her two biggest achievements were the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Social Security Act.
With cuts to Social Security being threatened by a Democratic president, Lawrence O’Donnell, host of MSNBC’s “Last Word,” paid tribute to Sec. Perkins, the architect of Social Security, on her 133rd birthday, the same day that Pres. Barack Obama proposed cuts and changes in these benefits.
by Lynn Malka, The Last Word Blog
“The man gets all the credit in popular history, but the woman did all the work,” O’Donnell said. “Social Security was her idea. It would never have become law without her.” As the U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Perkins had immense influence on his policy decisions.
A chance meeting at a tea party with then-Supreme Court Justice Harlan Stone provided Perkins with the legal framework for her initiative, setting into place certain present day laws of the same nature.
“The Constitutionality of Social Security, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act are all based on Frances Perkins’ novel use of the power to tax 78 years ago,” O’Donnell explained.
“Frances Perkins was a self-made woman,” O’Donnell said. “She did not advance her career by marriage. She didn’t flinch at challenges that everyone else considered impossible. Frances Perkins changed the world the old fashioned way-with hard work, persistence and passion. Tonight, this country owes a happy birthday nod to a uniquely American hero.”
In the second segment, Mr. O’Donnell imagines what Sec. Perkins would think about the current Social Security debate:
When the Social Security Act was passed in 1935, the highest concentration of poverty in America was among the elderly. At its signing, President Franklin Roosevelt said, “We can never insure 100% of the population against 100% of the hazards and vicissitudes of life but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen, and to his family, against the loss of a job and against poverty-stricken old-age.”[..]
In a speech in 1962, Perkins said of the Act, “Thousands and thousands of new problems arose in the administration which had not been foreseen by those who did the planning and the legal drafting. Of course, the Act had to be amended, and has been amended, and amended, and amended, and amended.”
It would not come as a shock to Perkins or Roosevelt that the benefits calculation formula would change as the years went on, but there were some principles that both Perkins and Roosevelt considered imperative in the design of Social Security. [..]
But despite the changes that the Act would no doubt be subjected to, Perkins remained adamant that Social Security would be everlasting: “One thing I know: it is so firmly embedded in the American psychology today that no politician, no political party, no political group could possibly destroy this Act and still maintain our democratic system. It is safe. It is safe forever, and for the everlasting benefit of the people of the United States.”
What would they think of the current debate on making cutbacks to the program now?