Skip to main content

tv   [untitled]  CSPAN  June 14, 2009 1:00am-1:30am EDT

1:00 am
unfortunately, kosciuszko when he died had four different states. he had his american state, which he left with jefferson that he wanted him to use to buy free slaves, buddy also had an estate in poland, which she left with his sister and his sister's children and said i want you to take that land. you can have that land under the condition that you freed the serfs and they are no longer slaves in poland. and then the money that kosciuszko was given by the czar in london, he never touch that money because he felt that was
1:01 am
blood money and in the end he wrote a will, giving some of it to a friend and some of it to one of zeltner's daughter's. he also had money in paris and switzerland and he said that money saved, use and given to peasants in switzerland who have gone to carry me to my grave. >> you show this in the crypt. was he given last rites by the catholic church in poland, considering his differences with the church and poland being so caplet? >> he was given last rites. in the end, he was 71 and he was writing a course andy fell off the horse and was injured and they brought him back to the room where he was staying. he was given last rites before he died. he ended up dying of a stroke
1:02 am
and catholics due regard him as a hero and there are a lot of people in poland as well to understand that the church owned serfs and this was on unconscionable. [inaudible] >> he was very-- he was buried by the catholic church and in fact he had his heart taken out of line with his entrails and buried in switzerland with the instructions that when poland was once again free, it be sent to poland and meet up with the rest of his body and it wasn't until after world war i that his heart was actually stent beck to poland and berry together with the rest of his remains. that said, thank you very much.
1:03 am
[applause] >> alex storozynski is the executive editor and president of the kosciuszko foundation. >> was formerly a contributing editor to "the new york sun" and was an editorial board member at the new york daily news. for more information visit kosciuszko
1:04 am
>> kirstin downey, former staff writer for "the washington post" recalls the life of frances perkins, fdr's secretary of labor and the first female cabinet secretary. during her tenure frances perkins was responsible for promoting public works and employment projects which included a mandating of the 40 hour work week. the creation of social security and child labor laws. the event hosted by the library of congress in washington d.c. is just under an hour.
1:05 am
>> i am so pleased to be here today. i love the library of congress. i have spent many, many hours here doing research and have made some very fun and amazing find here. often, people are very interested in the big collections the libraries have but at the library of congress that sometimes was the smaller less known collections there really proved so fruitful and i will just mention one thing because i really don't want to forget it and there are other things i'm going to be talking about, but in a collection of an obscure new yorker named john kingsbury, stored away in boxes in the outer suburbs of maryland at the library of congress staff, kindly kept bringing back to me. i found a yellow wing paper and written in pencil with kingsbury describing how teddy roosevelt picked frances perkins to have the committee on safety after
1:06 am
the shirtwaist fire. i have known that frances perkins ties to roosevelt went far back, but they are really tied closely to teddy roosevelt and was even a big surprise to the teddy roosevelt scholars that learned about it after i found it and discussed it with them. let me start by asking you all a question. how many of you have heard of frances perkins and know who she is? wow, that is great. okay. first of all this is wonderful. i have cud a great audience and i also have a fairly rare audience in that most people in america have no idea who frances perkins is, and i know that myself because when i started on this road to i didn't know who she was either. i came from a family that did not care much for roosevelt, and i kept stumbling across her name
1:07 am
though again and again over the years, and finally it was almost like a doorbell that kept ringing and i had to go answer it. one of the things that i think is important though is that it is almost-- it is difficult to say all of the things that frances perkins did and i would like to start with the short reading here and it is just two pages. i won't try it out too long but they are too important pages because they will give you a sense of the breadth of the thing she did and then i'm going to tell you a few other things. then i would like to turn our talk to how she did it, how this woman accomplished so much. when i started out on this book i thought that she was probably one of the most important american women in our american history and by the time i was done with the research and began writing i did come to the point that i had decided she was probably one of the most
1:08 am
important social progressives in american history and her sex was just a coincidence or a fact in her life. let me start by giving you a sense of the brat that some of the things that she did. on a julie tabare night in 1933 a middle-aged woman waited expectantly to me with her employer at his residence in new york city. she clutched a scrap of paper with hastily written notes. finally ushered into the study the woman brushed aside her nervousness and spoke confidently. they bantered casually as was their style, then she turned serious, her dark eyes holding his. he wanted her to take an assignment that she decided she would not accept it unless he allowed her to do it her own way. she held up a piece of paper in their hand and he motioned for her to continue. she ticked off the items, a 40 hour workweek, minimum wage, workers' compensation, unemployment compensation, a
1:09 am
federal law banning child labor, direct federal aid for unemployment, social security, a revitalize public employment service and health insurance. she watched his eyes to make sure he was paying attention and understood the implications of each demand. she braced for his response knowing he often shows political expediency over idealism and was capable of callousness, even cruelty. the scope of our list was breathtaking. she was proposing a fundamental and radical restructuring of american society with enactment of social and welfare laws. to 62 would have to overcome opposition from the courts, business, labor unions and conservatives. nothing like this has ever been done before in the united states she said, you know that don't you? the man sat across from her in his wheelchair amid the clutter of boxes. said he would have to washington d.c. to be sworn in as the 32nd
1:10 am
president of the united states. he would inherit the worst economic crisis in the nation's history. an era of rampant speculation had come to an end. the stock market had collapsed rendering investments valley less, the banks for shutting down stripping people of their lifetime savings. about a third of workers or unemployed, wages were falling, tens of thousands were homeless. real estate prices plummeted in millions of homeowners face foreclosure. his choice of labor secretary would be one of his most important early decisions. this nominee must understand economic and employment issues but equally effective as a coalition. he was a handsome man with features and the steady the matronly woman before him. no one was more qualified for the job. she knew as much about labor law and administration as anyone in the country. he had known her for more than 20 years. the last four in albany where she worked at his side.
1:11 am
he trusted her and knew she would never betray him. placing a woman in the labor secretary's job would expose him to ridicule. her list of proposals with stir heated opposition even among his loyal supporters. >> eight hour day was a standard plank of the socialist party. unemployment insurance seems laughably improbable. direct aid to the unemployed would threaten his campaign pledge of a balanced budget. still, he said he would back her. it was a job she had prepared for all of her life. she had changed her name, her appearance, even her age to make herself and more effective labor advocate. she steadied helmsmen think so she could better succeed in a man's world. she had spent decades building crucial alliances. still, she told the president-elect she needed more time to make her decision. the next day she visited her husband, a patient in a sanitarium. he was having a good day and be understood when she told him
1:12 am
about the offer. is the first impulse was to fred for himself, asking her how this new job might affect them. when she assured him he could remain where he was in her weekend visits would continue, he gave his permission. that night in bed the woman cried a deep wailing sobs the frighten her teenage daughter. she knew the job would change her life forever. she would open herself to constant scrutiny, harsh judgment from her peers and public criticism for doing a job no woman had done before yet she knew she must accept the offer. lesser grandmother had told her, whenever a door opens to you you have no choice but to what rick. the next day she called franklin roosevelt and accepted the offer. frances perkins would become the nation's first female secretary of labor. well, we know what happened.
1:13 am
the social security act passed in 1935 and it gave us unemployment insurance, social security and our welfare system which became aid to dependent children, which was originally designed to help the children of mothers who were let's to care for their children alone. these were mostly with us at the time. the fair labor standards act passed in 1938 set a 40 hour work week to prevent workers from becoming broken from exhaustion berkowitz at a minimum wage to insure they receive at least the minimum level of compensation. there was a ban on child labor and they created the concept of overtime pay in which workers who are asked to work longer hours can receive higher pay for doing so. but that is not all she did. she was a major supporter of fha insurance, which has provided housing over the years to millions of american families.
1:14 am
she was a primary architect of the civilian conservation corps, which became one of the most popular early programs in the administration, universally popular. almost universally popular. [laughter] and she was the largest single supporter of the works progress administration, which led to a vast expansion of public works projects, highways, tunnels, schools and our projects all across the country that provided a lot of basic infrastructure on which our country expanded its economy so dramatically in the 1950's and the key people in of money to feed themselves until the economy recovered on its own. it really is an extraordinary list of accomplishments, and that is not all. the immigration department was then part of the labor department, so frances perkins also played an international role in the 1930's as the world
1:15 am
move towards a global war. and, she had to, she was an early proponent of bringing many refugees in. she did it quietly. she listened what law she could. she interpreted things in ways that she could, and in consequence, hundreds of thousands of people actually made it to safety in the united states before much of the world actually went up in flames. national health insurance, it never passed. there was too much opposition from the american medical association is members said they would kill social security if that was what was needed to prevent socialized medicine. fdr backed off from national health insurance to save social security. frances perkins achieved almost all of her agenda. she became the most successful social progressive in american history. how did that happen?
1:16 am
over the years it has been very difficult to get progressive legislation passed in the united states of the kind they have in europe. there are many obstacles. frances perkins was one of these people that from a very young age found a path through obstacles on the way to get things done. coming here, i first came to washington d.c. as a young reporter for "the washington post" and i did not know who frances perkins was myself. i think i was familiar with the name. i took a tourmobile of the sites of d.c. and one of the things they really stuck it my mind was the huge labor department building named after frances perkins. i thought wow, there aren't many government buildings named after women so i sort of started the way in my mind. as we continue their trip along the mall the tour bus drivers said that he had a joke for us and it was what american women had the worst child birth experience? a long pause.
1:17 am
frances perkins. she spent 12 years in labor. [laughter] this is how much tourists knew and were informed about what frances perkins had done and you can only imagine how many people on that bus have relatives that were collecting social security checks. maybe they had the free time to be on the tour bus because they were collecting unemployment, and had no idea who had allowed for the creation of those benefits. one of the things that makes frances perkins so extraordinary was the time that she was born that she did this at that particular time. she was born in 1880 in a time of great national transformation. she was descended from revolutionary war patriots and always considered herself a live there. and was very proud of her new england heritage, her stoicism and strength in the face of the
1:18 am
diversity. that turned out to be enormously valuable to her when she got to washington. she grew up middle-class. the time she was born in the industrial revolution was in full swing. the gap between rich and poor was growing larger and larger and a huge surge of immigration had changed the country. it wasn't really that great at the time to be a woman for the women did not have the right to vote. in fact frances perkins was 40 years old before she had the right to vote. when she went to college at mount holyoke only 3% of american women got a college education sodas extraordinary she had the self-confidence to take on the thing she did. in fact people were even afraid of women getting higher education, fearful they would become intellectuals and injure themselves. [laughter] after she graduated from mount holyoke frances perkins went to work at ferry hall which is the women's college in lake forest. the rules there were very rigid,
1:19 am
even the teachers were required to live on campus and their lives were very circumscribed, but she managed to to get over where she became a close ally of jane addams and the whole house lemon and became a very big advocate of the supplement house movement. she learned a lot there and learned a lot from them but she also learned a lot about what they were not succeeding at. they were very effective that raising consciousness and making people aware of problems but they didn't have a lot of success at implementing legislation that could change some of those problems. and provide solutions. she began to think very early in her mid-20s that she needed to, she needed to bring new ways to solve some of these problems and one of the first thing she did was begin to change who she was herself. she wasn't born frances perkins. she was born fannie cora lee
1:20 am
perkins. it would have been hard for fannie to become secretary of labor. in fact for the rest of her life when someone wanted to make fun of her they would start to call her fannie. but she began to call herself frances perkins, and people wondered why. she never really said why she chose that name. some people thought, she loved monogrammed linens and that letter keeper initials' the same. that my been part of it. it was also a gender neutral name that allowed her to be not so obviously it waldman added time being a woman was such a handicap. she changed her religion. she had been raised at the congregational list in the lake forest. she changed to episcopalianism. now she was the thought. she was truly the about and religion is a defining characteristic in her whole life but it also put her in the right social circle in lake forest.
1:21 am
the swift family, the armor family, those were her fellow parishioners at the church that she went to and provided introductions and context for the rest of her life. this is a recurring facet of frances perkins's character. advocating for the poor and the underclass while socializing in befriending the effluent to have the ability to make social change. frances perkins went to new york city to become a social worker. a lot of women at hall house were heiresses the-- frances perkins had to sing for her supper all of her life. she became a social worker in new york city. she was working for the national consumers league, which was an organization that was headed by florence kelley, a very important hall house women and it was then when she was in new york that she had a life
1:22 am
changing event and that was that she witnessed the fire. she saw 146 young workers mostly emigrants, jumped to their death to escape a fire that had broken out on the top floors of a converted office building that had been turned into the factory where they were working. this was a horrifying sight. up until that time people said frances perkins was not quite sure what her destiny was going to be. she had a great sense of motivation and a missionary zeal to improve the world but she also had a lot of feelings women have of wanting to marry, wanting to have children, seeing herself in a more conventional woman's life, probably doing a lot of philanthropic work but she saw herself in a more conventional life. witnessing the triangle fire change that because she realized a more aggressive strategy was going to be needed and that is where receivers start to begin to actually deploys some of these tactics. this is when teddy roosevelt
1:23 am
then takes her to head the committee on safety and she leads the charge on improving fire safety standards, first nationally and internationally. anytime you go into a building and you see a glass case and there is an occupancy limit and you see fire exits and you see the signs of where the exit czar, when there is a fire drill, when there are water sprinklers over your head, when a janitor comes at night and cleans out the flammable trash that is in your office, none of that happened by magic. lot of those things frances perkins was a major motivator in making that happen. she made speeches to national fire prevention that were her talks were disseminated cult leak and you see the standards now. it saves hundreds of thousands of lives a year all over the country. the triangle fire is important to me too.
1:24 am
i was a reporter at "the washington post." as i have said i knew little about france's. spa i had the sense that she had done important things. i began to do a column that ran in a number of papers around the country where people could pose questions about the workplace problems and i got a letter from a man, a letter from a man who said he was locked into his office every night while they counted the money in the cash register ndps dead did i think that was on save? [laughter] well, it happen that we had just been writing about that terrible poultry fire in north carolina. i was aware of the triangle fire but i decided to call the historian at the labor department to get a little bit more information. i called the labor attorney who happens to be in the audience today, and he told me about the triangle fire but he told me something really important. he said, did you know france's.
1:25 am
saw that fire? and that is what started me on the path. wet this point they were all these threads i am hearing. this is something that puts it all together and it became fascinated with the idea of this young woman about 30 years old witnessing something in going forward in trying to change the world and succeeding. frances perkins had already been lobbying for a few years by the time of the triangle fire so she had party lost a lot of her early idealism naivete. and, she began to use this much more effectively, this system of cultivating allies, and she cultivated some unlikely allies. most people who are idealistic the like people who are corrupt. [laughter] for a good reason. what frances did is she often worked with people who were corrupt but you had a streak of
1:26 am
good news in them and you wanted to participate in something better. frances perkins began at an early age to cultivate tammany hall for kroeger she becomes very close friends with robert wechner who initially showed very low interest in the workplace legislation, and the person who was so close to him, they called him his tammy twin, al smith. frances perkins is an vault in helping both of those men advance their careers. she orchestrates hearings on factory conditions where those two men began to shine. robert wagner becomes a very important u.s. senator from new york. shabes labor legislation for decades to come. al smith becomes governor of new york and a presidential candidate. when he goes to run, for president, he meets-- need someone he can count on, someone who is going to be a good
1:27 am
governor and intends to franklin roosevelt. frances perkins is friends with owls smith before she becomes close friends with fdr. and, as fdr rises she rises with him. al smith was not the only person that came out of machine politics that frances perkins became a great friend to. another person she sawed during the candidates seek was harry truman, who she first met add add event in independence, missouri and they were being screamed and yelled at by the ku klux klan who were opposed to al smith running for president. harry truman was also widely believed to be a part of machine politics but he too with someone who she saw greatness then and she became a friend and ally of his as well so even when fdr
1:28 am
died she went to work in the civil service commission and did. many things for truman on the review board, including rooting out communists in the federal government and convincing them to quit their jobs before they got into trouble. this is a woman obviously who had, who did many things. at the end of her life, she looked back at her life and the thing she was produce was the creation of social security. and indeed that really is remarkable. 50 million people now get social security. the latest figures that came out on unemployment insurance at a record 5 million people are on unemployment insurance. if we didn't have that 55 million people getting that income now we would be in a much more serious, that place that we are now as we face another bad downturn, so frances perkins's handiwork is even more important
1:29 am
today than it has been for the last several decades. she really is a remarkable person. she didn't do it for glory. she said to felix frankfurter why she did it and to me one letter sums up her motivation. supreme court justice felix frankfurter wrote her a letter as she stepped down as secretary of labor. he congratulated her on her successes, and he noted ruefully that she suffered much criticism for doing it. she responded, i came to work for god, fdr and the millions of for gotten, plain, kullman workingmen she told him. the last conversation i had with fdr was of such a nature that i could say my cup runneth over and surely goodness and mercy shall follow me. and i say to frances perkins, amen. and i would be happy to take your questions. [applause]


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on