March 4, 1933: Frances Perkins sworn in as Secretary of Labor, first woman to serve in the cabinet

March 4, 2013

FDR’s administration hit the ground running.

On March 4, 1933, Frances Perkins was sworn in as his Secretary of Labor.  She became the first woman to serve in a president’s cabinet.

Frances Perkins, by Robert Shetterly

Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve in a president’s cabinet, was Secretary of Labor in Franklin Roosevelt’s Administration. Painting by Robert Shetterly, part of his series, Americans Who Tell the Truth, Models of Courageous Citizenship

The text on the portrait:

“Very slowly there evolved… certain basic facts, none of them new, but all of them seen in a new light. It was no new thing for America to refuse to let its people starve, nor was it a new idea that man should live by his own labor, but it had not been generally realized that on the ability of the common man to support himself hung the prosperity of everyone in the country.”

Perkins was one of the chief proponents of Social Security and the Social Security System.  She was a crusader for better working conditions long before joining FDR’s cabinet.

Perkins witnessed the March 25, 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and watched the trapped young women pray before they leapt off the window ledges into the streets below. Her incessant work for minimum hours legislation encouraged Al Smith to appoint her to the Committee on Safety of the City of New York under whose authority she visited workplaces, exposed hazardous practices, and championed legislative reforms. Smith rewarded her work by appointing her to the State Industrial Commission in 1918 and naming her its chair in 1926. Two years later, FDR would promote her to Industrial Commissioner of New York.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Jim Stanley and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut; Rep. DeLauro posted a Facebook note of the anniversary, which Jim called to my attention.


Celebrate Social Security “birthday,” August 14, 2012 at FDR Library

August 1, 2012

Press release from the FDR Presidential Library and Home; some informational links added here:
For press inquiries: Cliff Laube (845) 486-7745

FDR Presidential Library and Museum to host


August 14, 2012 at 11:00 a.m.
Henry A. Wallace Center at the FDR Presidential Library and Home

Reservations are required as seating is limited. For reservations call co-chair Stefan Lonce at (914) 629-4580.

HYDE PARK, NY — The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum will host a 2012 National Birthday Party for Social Security at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, August 14, 2012. Event co-chair Dr. Christopher Breiseth, Francis Perkins Center board member and former President and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute, will lead the festivities. The program will celebrate the 77th Anniversary of the signing of the Social Security Act by President Franklin D. Roosevelt with readings of the 1935 and 1983 social security signing statements, “A Promise to All Generations: Stories and Essays about Social Security and Frances Perkins” (co-edited by Dr. Breiseth), and “Driving with FDR: A Calendrical Biography.” The forthcoming book “Driving with FDR” is written by event co-chair Stefan Lonce, editor of The Montauk Sun newspaper.

Attendees will celebrate the occasion with refreshments — including two special birthday cakes — and free admission to the Roosevelt Library’s current special exhibition, “The Roosevelts: Public Figures, Private Lives,” the largest photography exhibit ever assembled on the lives and public careers of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. This program will be held in the Henry A. Wallace Visitor and Education Center at the FDR Presidential Library and Home.

Reservations are required as seating is limited. For reservations call co-chair Stefan Lonce at (914) 629-4580.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is dedicated to preserving historical material and providing innovative educational programs, community events, and public outreach. It is one of thirteen presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. For information about the FDR Presidential Library call (800) 337-8474 or visit

Historic Hyde Park is a group of government and private non-profit organizations based in Hyde Park, New York. Each has a unique mission, but all are united in their dedication to extending the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to new generations. HHP includes the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill, the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, and Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. For more information about HHP visit

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Composite photo of people at FDR's signing of Social Security Act -- SSA image

From Social Security Administration: There were many photographs taken of the Social Security Act signing ceremony. The posing was different in many of the photographs and in no single photograph are all the participants visible. This composite photograph shows all of the participants in a single image. (See identification below)

People listed in the photograph, according to the Social Security Administration, “Who is who, and why they were there”:

1. Rep. Jere Cooper (D-TN). Cooper was a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and would go on in subsequent years to become something of an expert on Social Security topics and he was a major force in Social Security legislative developments during the 1940s to the mid-1950s. Mr. Cooper also rose to the position of Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee during the Eighty-fourth and Eighty-fifth Congresses.

2. Rep. Claude Fuller (D-AR). Fuller was a member of the Ways & Means Committee and was generally opposed to the Administration’s bill. During Committee consideration he made motions seeking to strike key provisions of the legislation. But when his efforts failed, he compromised with the Administration and joined in voting for passage of the bill.

3 . Rep. Robert Doughton (D-NC) was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. As such he was the principal official sponsor of the legislation in the House.

4. Rep. Frank Buck (D-CA) was a second-generation industrialist and fruit grower from California. He was a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, which had jurisdiction of the bill in the House. He graduated from Harvard Law School and served five terms in Congress, from 1933 until his death in 1942. (Representative Buck has often been misidentified in photos of the signing as being Edwin Witte. Witte, in fact, was not in the signing photographs.)

5. Rep. John Boehne, Jr.(D-IN) succeeded his father as a representative from Indiana. He was first swept into office in the 1932 elections with President Roosevelt and strongly supported FDR’s programs. At first, he was against the Social Security bill and wanted to exempt industrial employers with their own pension systems.

6 . Sen. Robert Wagner (D-NY) was born in Germany, immigrated to New York City, attended law school and was elected to the Senate in 1926. He served four terms. He was a close associate of Frances Perkins and helped draft several early New Deal measures. Wagner introduced the bill into the Senate. His son, Robert F. Wagner, was mayor of New York City for 16 years.

7 . Sen. Alben Barkley (D-KY) was a seven-term Congressman before being elected to the Senate in 1926. By 1937, he was Senate Majority Leader and a decade later, Vice President of the United States. He was an ardent New Dealer and helped shepherd the Social Security Act through the Senate. He argued for “a universal and uniform program in general.” He didn’t want to exempt certain private groups merely because they already had pension systems, as was proposed by some conservatives in the Congress.

8 . This individual is presently unknown.

9 . Sen. Robert LaFollette, Jr., (PROG-WI) was the eldest son of Robert LaFollette, a progressive Senator from Wisconsin and one-time presidential candidate. When his father died in 1925, Robert Jr., then only 30 years old, was appointed to succeed him. Initially elected as a Republican, LaFollette changed his party affiliation to the Progressive Party in 1934. LaFollette served on the House-Senate conference committee that drafted the final version of the Social Security bill. He served in the Senate until 1946, when he was defeated by Joseph McCarthy. In 1953, LaFollette committed suicide in Washington, D.C.

10 . Rep. John Dingell, Sr. (D-MI). Rep. Dingell was a member of the House Ways & Means Committee. He was a prominent leader in Congress in sponsoring social insurance legislation and teamed with Senator Wagner he authored a couple of important precursor bills to the Social Security Act. (Several authors have identified Dingell as “unidentified man” in some versions of the signing photo.)

11. Sen. Augustine Lonergan (D-CT) was a native of Connecticut and a graduate of Yale University. Although he was a four-term Congressman, he served only one term in the Senate. During the discussions on the Social Security bill, Lonergan gave information about various private insurance annuities to show how they compared to the social insurance program that was being proposed.

12 . Frances Perkins was appointed Secretary of Labor in 1933, making her the first woman to hold a cabinet-level position. Like FDR, she was a child of privilege, but became a strong advocate for the poor and working class. She began her career in New York City as a social worker and held several responsible State government jobs. She served as head of Roosevelt’s Committee on Economic Security, set up in 1934. The Social Security legislation sprang from this committee.

13. Rep. Frank Crowther (R-NY) was a Republican member of the House Ways & Means Committee;

14. Sen. William H. King (D-UT). King was a conservative Democrat and member of the Senate Finance Committee. King expressed persistent opposition to many features of the bill as it was being considered, and his support of the legislation was in doubt until the last possible minute. In the end, he voted for passage of the Social Security Act. (Senators King and Harrison have often been confused in the signing photos, including,we are embarrassed to admit, in SSA’s own OASIS magazine. Clue: King has a bowtie, Harrison has a regular long tie.)

15. Rep. David J. Lewis (D-MD) was a member of the House Ways & Means Committee and was probably the leading expert on social insurance legislation on the Committee. It was Lewis, a former coal miner and self-taught lawyer, who introduced the Social Security bill into the House on January 17, 1935. However, Chairman Doughton, exercising what he took to be the Chairman’s privileges, made a copy of Lewis’ bill and submitted it himself. Then he persuaded the House clerk to give him a lower number than Lewis’ copy. Newspapers then began calling the bill “The Wagner-Doughton bill.” When Lewis found out, he sputtered and swore, then went to work to understand every sentence and master the arguments in favor of the bill. And when David Lewis walked down the aisle of the House to debate on the bill’s behalf, he received a standing ovation–a subtle rebuke to Chairman Doughton’s high-handed treatment.

16 . Sen. Byron Patton “Pat” Harrison (D-MS) was a Congressman for 8 years before being elected to the Senate in 1918. In his book “The Development of the Social Security Act,” Edwin Witte gives Harrison credit for his “adroit” handling of the Social Security bill in the Senate Finance Committee. According to Witte, Title II would not have been approved by the Committee without Sen. Harrison’s help. Harrison went on to serve in the Senate for the rest of his life and was elected President pro tempore 6 months before his death in June 1941. (In other versions of the signing photo, Sen. Harrison can be more clearly seen wearing a white suit and tie and holding his trademark cigar.)

17. Sen. Joseph Guffey (D-PA) was 65 years old at the time the Social Security Act was passed, although he was only a first-term Senator. From Pennsylvania, he served two terms before being defeated in 1946. His vote on the Social Security bill was in doubt until the final roll call.

18. Senator Edward Costigan (D-CO), a member of the Finance Committee.

19. Rep. Samuel B. Hill (D-WA) was a member of the House Ways & Means Committee.

20. Rep. Fred Vinson (D-KY) was a member of the House Ways & Means Committee. He would go on to serve as Secretary of the Treasury and as a Justice and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

21 . President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

NOTE: For more biographical information on any of the members of Congress see the U. S. Senate Biographical Directory of the United States Congress on the Senate website

Astonishing to me that one person in the photograph remains unidentified.  Can you help identify the man?


Stimulus spending: Texans remember how the CCC helped save the nation

January 20, 2012

New video history piece from the Texas Parks & Wildlife people:


Uploaded by on Jan 17, 2012

The Civilian Conservation Corps provided jobs for over 3 million young men during the Great Depression and helped establish the foundation of our nation’s park system. 70 years after the creation of the CCC, Conservation Corps veterans reunite in one of the parks they helped build, sharing stories and rekindling old memories.

A pictorial map showing Texas State Parks with significant work performed by the CCC:

Map of Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy Parks in Texas - TPWD image

Map of Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy Parks in Texas - TPWD image - Click on map for original, larger version

FDR on Social Security — “Our Plain Duty”

November 1, 2011

A film from the Pare Lorentz Center and FDR Library:

This film, produced by the Pare Lorentz Center at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, commemorates the 75th Anniversary of Social Security. The film asks the question: Is it still Our Plain Duty?

Big question.  Do we have an obligation to continue Social Security, especially now that everyone has a pension from their employer, no one has any difficulty getting access to health care, there are no homeless people in the streets, and no older Americans live and die in poverty?

2,671 views at posting

Chess games of the rich and famous: House Speaker Joe Cannon vs. Congress

July 7, 2010

Cartoon - Cannon, Joe, The Poltiical Chessboard, Harpers 2-05-1910 - 3b23316r

The Poltiical Chessboard, Harper's Magazine, February 5, 1910, by E. W. Kemble - Library of Congress image

Description from the Library of Congress:

Joseph Cannon playing chess with straw man labelled “Congress,” using toy men on chessboard with squares labelled “important committee” and “freak committee.”

Legendary House Speaker Joe Cannon — after whom the Cannon House Office Building is named — is remembered for the almost absolute power he held over the House of Representatives.  Here’s the generic description at Wikipedia:

House Speaker Joseph G. Cannon - Wikimedia image, photo from October 1915

House Speaker Joseph G. Cannon - Wikimedia image, photo from October 1915

Cannon wielded the office of Speaker with unprecedented power. At the time of Cannon’s election the Speaker of the House concurrently held the chair of the Rules Committee, which determined under what rules and restrictions bills could be debated, amended, and voted on, and in some cases whether they would be allowed on the floor at all. As such, Cannon effectively controlled every aspect of the House’s agenda: Bills reached the floor of the house only if Cannon approved of it, and then in whatever form he determined—with he himself deciding whether and to what extent the measures could be debated and amended.

Cannon also reserved to himself the right to appoint not only the chairs of the various House committees, but also all of committees’ members, and (despite the seniority system that had begun to develop) used that power to appoint his allies and proteges to leadership positions while punishing those who opposed his legislation. Crucially, Cannon exercised these powers to maintain discipline within the ranks of his own party: the Republicans were divided into the conservative “Old Guard,” led by Cannon, and the progressives, led by President Theodore Roosevelt. His committee assignment privileges ensured that the party’s Progressive element was essentially powerless in the House, and his control over the legislative process obstructed progressive legislation.

Progressives wished to break Cannon’s ability to control so completely the flow of legislation.  By early 1910, progressives in the Republican Party especially chafed under Cannon’s rule.  Anxious for revolt, they struck on March 17, just a few weeks after this cartoon appeared.

On March 17, 1910, after two failed attempts to curb Cannon’s absolute power in the House, Nebraska Representative George Norris [of Nebraska] led a coalition of 42 progressive Republicans and the entire delegation of 149 Democrats in a revolt. With many of Cannon’s most powerful allies absent from the Chamber, but enough Members on hand for a quorum, Norris introduced a resolution that would remove the Speaker from the Rules Committee and strip him of his power to assign committees.

While his lieutenants and the House sergeant-at-arms left the chamber to collect absent members in attempt to rally enough votes for Cannon, the Speaker’s allies initiated a filibuster in the form of a point of order debate. When Cannon supporters proved difficult to find (many of the staunchest were Irish and spent the day at various St. Patrick’s Day celebrations), the filibuster continued for 26 hours, with Cannon’s present friends making repeated motions for recess and adjournment. When Cannon finally ruled the resolution out of order at noon on March 19, Norris appealed the resolution to the full House, which voted to overrule Cannon, and then to adopt the Norris resolution.

Cannon managed to save some face by promptly requesting a vote to remove him as Speaker, which he won handily since the Republican majority would not risk a Democratic speaker replacing him. However, his iron rule of the House was broken, and Cannon lost the Speakership when the Democrats won a majority later that same year.

Instead of the Speaker’s wishes, committee assignments and chairs were selected by a seniority system.

Cannon lost his seat representing Illinois in the progressive tide of 1912, but regained it in 1914, and served another four terms in the House, to 1922.

I have found no information on whether Cannon actually played chess.

Norris’s star was on the rise at the same time.  Though he supported Theodore Roosevelt in the election of 1912, when Roosevelt bolted the Republican Party and ran as a Progressive or “Bullmoose Party” nominee for president, Norris stayed with the Republican Party and won election to the U.S. Senate in 1912.

Norris became an isolationist, and was one of six senators to vote against the declaration of war in 1917 that pushed the U.S. into World War I.  Norris also opposed the Versailles Treaty, and played an important role in keeping the treaty from U.S. ratification.  He supported Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal Reforms a decade-and-a-half later, and one of the early dams of the Tennessee Valley Authority is named for him.  Norris’s role in the New Deal, and in pushing progressive reforms well into the 20th century, is not fully appreciated, for example:

In 1932, along with Rep. Fiorello H. La Guardia, Norris secured passage of the Norris-La Guardia Act, which outlawed the practice of requiring prospective employees not to join a labor union as a condition of employment (the so-called yellow-dog contract) and greatly limited the use of court injunctions against strikes.

A staunch supporter of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, Norris sponsored the Tennessee Valley Authority Act of 1933. In appreciation, the TVA Norris Dam and a new planned city in Tennessee were named after him.[3][4] Norris was also the prime Senate mover behind the Rural Electrification Act that brought electrical service to under-served and unserved rural areas across the United States.

Switching to the Democratic Party in 1936 when the Republicans fell into the minority, Norris generally supported New Deal efforts but did not fear to oppose ideas he found unworthy, regardless their source or party connection.  His opposition to President Franklin Roosevelt’s “court packing” plan helped smother the idea.  Norris finally lost election in 1942.  Norris is one of eight U.S. senators profiled in John F. Kennedy’s book, Profiles in Courage.

Darkest political skullduggery: Coup d’etat in the U.S.

August 20, 2008

Here’s a story you won’t read in your U.S. history text: Sore from losing the White House, conservatives try to use an economic “crisis” as an excuse to seize the White House and oust the sitting president.

It might make a good movie — but it hasn’t yet. It actually happened.

Maj. Gen. Smedley D. Butler, The Fighting Quaker - twice winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor

Maj. Gen. Smedley D. Butler, "The Fighting Quaker" - twice winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor

The American Liberty League tried to persuade double-Medal of Honor winner Major Gen. Smedley Darlington Butler to do one more military campaign to save the nation — from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1933. The story was told in a book that quoted extensively from hearings before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Un-American Activities Committee, the group that would become infamous for harassing leftists before the House finally choked it to death. Of course, since no one would believe such a plot, the book is out of print.  The American Liberty League was quite the opposite of leftist – they favored the fascists.

Oh, the wonder of the intertubes! You can download the book, Jules Archer’s The Plot to Seize the White House, at a site called Information Clearinghouse, “News you won’t find on CNN.”

None of the plotters faced any other official investigation beyond the hearings in Congress.

Had the plot succeeded how different would World War II have been?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Progressive Gold’s feeds.

Quote of the moment: W. C. Lowdermilk, soil erosion

March 20, 2007

Soil erosion in Virginia, photo by W. C. Lowdermilk

Soil erosion in Virginia, photo by W. C. Lowdermilk “Figure 15. — A formerly productive field in Virginia that has been cut to pieces by gully erosion. About 50 million acres of good farm land in the United States have been ruined for further practical cultivation by similar types of erosion.”


From Conquest of the Land through 7,000 Years, by W. C. Lowdermilk, its first director, a soil conservation publication of the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, first issued in about 1939:

When in Palestine in 1939, I pondered the problems of the use of the land through the ages. I wondered if Moses, when he was inspired to deliver the Ten Commandments to the Israelites in the Desert to establish man’s relationship to his Creator and his fellow men — if Moses had foreseen what was to become of the Promised Land after 3,000 years and what was to become of hundreds of millions of acres of once good lands such as I have seen in China, Korea, North Africa, the Near East, and in our own fair land of America — if Moses had foreseen what suicidal agriculture would do to the land of the holy earth — might not have been inspired to deliver another Commandment to establish man’s relation to the earth and to complete man’s trinity of responsibilities to his Creator, to his fellow men, and to the holy earth.

When invited to broadcast a talk on soil conservation in Jerusalem in June 1939, I gave for the first time what has been called an “Eleventh Commandment,” as follows: Thou shalt inherit the Holy Earth as a faithful steward, conserving its resources and productivity from generation to generation. Thou shalt safeguard thy fields from soil erosion, thy living waters from drying up, thy forests from desolation, and protect thy hills from overgrazing by thy herds, that thy descendants may have abundance forever. If any shall fail in this stewardship of the land, thy fruitful fields shall become sterile stony ground and wasting gullies, and thy descendants shall decrease and live in poverty or perish from off the face of the earth.

Slowdown for study

January 25, 2007

Posting will be light this weekend — I’m off to Pasadena, California, for a Liberty Fund seminar on the “Hoover-Roosevelt Conversation,” regarding the debates between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt between 1928 and 1945.  Good fun, great company, hoped-for good stuff for future lesson plans.

But little time for blogging (and who knows how well the connections work).


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