We are delighted to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Weissman Center for Leadership with a pre-broadcast documentary screening on the life, work, and leadership of Frances Perkins, class of 1902, As the first women to hold a U.S. Cabinet position as the Secretary of Labor, this documentary reveals how Mount Holyoke College shaped Perkins' worldview, details the social causes which she championed, and presents her leadership legacy today through featured interviews with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Senator George Mitchell (Maine), New York Times columnist David Brooks, and MSNBC television host and political commentator Lawrence O’Donnell.
Free and open to the public. Doors open at 6:00 pm.
Frances Perkins, Class of 1902, began her political life before she had the legal right to vote. In 1898 she enrolled at Mount Holyoke, the country's oldest women's college. At Mount Holyoke, Perkins was deeply influenced by an economic history course that required her to survey working conditions in the nearby industrial city of Holyoke. She was also affected by reading about the suffering caused by poverty, unfair labor practices, and unhealthy living conditions. In her senior year, she heard an address by Florence Kelley, head of the National Consumer's League, a women's group that advocated for decent wages and working conditions. Perkins became a convert to Kelley's cause.
With the support of Franklin Roosevelt, she became the first woman cabinet member in a male-dominated world of labor. But she went far beyond labor to become a major inspiration and driving force behind the creation of Social Security and the programs of the New Deal. Perkins helped to transform the role of government and changed the basic social contract with its citizens.
About the film
“Summoned: Frances Perkins and the General Welfare” Directed by filmmaker Mick Caouette, is the story of the first woman cabinet member and the force behind the American Social Safety Net. The fundamental rights, which she championed, are now woven into the fabric of every American life, yet when a sign at a recent campaign rally read “Keep government out of my Medicare” it is clear that many Americans do not understand the origins of these rights or their justification. There is no better way to explore their meaning and rationale than by examining the life of a woman who made them possible. Combining her own voice (from archival tapes) with those of biographers and those who knew her personally, the intent of this one hour film is to provide historical context for the debate over the myriad of labor and social welfare issues that are pervasive in our contemporary conversation.
Today there is constant debate over the rise of the federal minimum wage. In 1938 the idea was considered radical and anti-business, yet Frances Perkins was able to overcame bitter opposition and lead the fight to include it in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 – an act that also established a maximum 40-hour workweek.
Fire codes in the workplace that save thousands of lives every year rose from the ashes of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911. In 1913, Frances Perkins, supported by President Theodore Roosevelt, became a founding member of the New York Factory Investigating Committee, creating 30 laws that set workplace fire standards that are now recognized worldwide.
When she saw ten-year-old girls working in sweatshops and boys working in the mines, Frances Perkins worked tirelessly to create laws making child labor illegal. And when she saw a worker lose a hand in an industrial accident without being compensated, she fought to create a safer workplace and the enactment of Federal Workman’s Compensation legislation.
Now Social Security and its descendant Medicare, are providing an aging population with a sense of dignity and security that extends far beyond their working years — a protection that would not be the law of the land without the will and persistence of Frances Perkins.
Thursday, November 7 at 7:00pm to 9:00pm