The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR's Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience

Kirstin Downey, Author
Kirstin Downey, Author . Doubleday/Talese $35 (458p) ISBN 978-0-385-51365-4
Reviewed on: 12/15/2008
Release date: 03/01/2009
Paperback - 458 pages - 978-1-4000-7856-1
Open Ebook - 270 pages - 978-1-299-08362-2
Open Ebook - 414 pages - 978-0-385-52950-1
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No individual—not even Eleanor Roosevelt—exerted more influence over the formulation of FDR's New Deal or did more to implement the programs than Frances Perkins (1880–1965). As former Washington Post staff writer Downey makes plain in this deeply researched biography, the first female Cabinet member was the primary shaper of such new concepts as unemployment insurance, the 40-hour work week and—last but not least—Social Security. At a time when the United States stands at the brink of another economic meltdown calling for sweeping federal interventions, Downey provides not only a superb rendering of history but also a large dose of inspiration drawn from Perkins's clearheaded, decisive work with FDR to solve urgent problems diligently and to succeed in the face of what seemed insurmountable odds. Confronting family issues—a frequently institutionalized husband with severe psychiatric problems; a deeply secret lesbian relationship with Mary Harriman Rumsey (sister of Averell Harriman); a daughter from whom she was often estranged—Perkins nevertheless exhibited tireless grace under pressure again and again, always rising to the occasion in the name of every and any progressive cause. (Mar. 3)

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