Frances Perkins: The Woman Behind The New Deal | KCUR

Frances Perkins: The Woman Behind The New Deal

Aug 27, 2013

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is credited with implementing major changes in labor and social welfare: unemployment compensation, child labor laws, the 40-hour work week, and Social Security among them. However, the driving force behind these policies was the first woman to serve as a Cabinet member.

On Wednesday's edition of Up to Date, Steve Kraske talks with Kirstin Downey author of The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR'S Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience. They follow Perkins’ life from social worker in New York City to shaping national policy and look at the impact her career had on her personal life.


  • Kirstin Downey became a staff writer for the Washington Post in 1988, where she chronicled the ways in which rampant speculation by banks and savings and loan associations in the 1980s had led to the collapse of the real estate industry. In 1990, she was named a finalist for the Livingston award for outstanding young journalist in America. In the mid-1990s, Downey's series of articles exposing the intense harassment of women in the Mesabi Iron Range was turned into a book and later a movie, called “North Country.” Her Washington Post column, "On the Job", in which workers wrote about the problems they faced at work had a total weekly readership exceeding 3 million people. In 2000, Downey was awarded a Nieman fellowship at Harvard University which gave her the opportunity to focus full-time on research for her book about Frances Perkins. Downey returned to her job at the Post and in 2008, shared in the Pulitzer Prize awarded to the Washington Post staff for coverage of the campus slayings at Virginia Tech. She left the Washington Post to focus on finishing her biography of Perkins. Kirstin Downey is married to Neil Warner Averitt, and together they have five children.