Frances Perkins was born on April 10, 1882 in Boston, Massachusetts
Perkins graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1902 then eventually earned a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1910
In 1911 Perkins witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire where 146 workers, mostly women died. The disaster was a result of hazardous conditions and the lack of fire escapes, made an indelible impression on her, who then spent her life fighting these conditions.
When Alfred E. Smith became governor in 1918 he asked Perkins to become the first woman to serve on the state Industrial Commission. During her tenure she reinvigorated the factory inspection and workman’s compensation divisions. Appointed to the Industrial Board in 1923, as a member (1923-1926) and then as a chair (1926-1929), she worked to advance labor legislation.
After Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, he appointed Perkins secretary of labor. She vigorously cleaned out the corrupt Bureau of Immigration; strengthened the departments statistical, concilation, and job placement services; and created the Department of Labor Standards to provide guidance for state labor departments. She was the first woman to serve in the cabinet.
She died on May 14, 1965 at the age of 83 after a series of strokes.