tv [untitled] CSPAN June 14, 2009 1:30am-2:00am EDT
>> you talk about all these men she befriended. i was just wondering whether she also befriended women farhad clothes female france? >> yes, i am sorry. the question was we have heard about her male friends and she did have many, but how important to her were her female friends? the house movement was intelligent women banded together even living together to do things they needed to be done to make the world a better place. this is a very close alliance, the female alliance and the settlement houses spread all over the country but frances perkins was very much a part of the settlement house movement so those friendships were enormously important to her and jane addams was one of the most, when fdr was considering her for secretary of labor one of the
most enthusiastic letters came from jane adams saying please pick this woman who has already been by your side. she said to whipped europe because frances perkins had been industrial commissioner. the other women that were lifelong supporters to frances perkins were her friends from the suffrage movement. the women have fought for the right to get the bode bruegerly break. you have to remember this was a time when women were not even supposed to go out into public places. they were not allowed to sit in a bar. they were considered too embarrassing for them to stay in the hotel by themselves because there were a lot of rules restricting women's behavior. these women went with the soap box, they went to a street corner. they often picc the corner wehr for bars, one on each corner because it could get a good audience of men to look at the girls on the box. out they would come. these women would start to make their speech about why it was necessary for women to get the
vote. usually they would get catcalls and ridicule. the women learn to turn the catcalls and reticule into laughter shared by the group who and they learned about the support that you need from your female friends to get out there and face that kind of thing. it was very scary. the suffrage france that frances had lasted a lifetime and when france's. suffered an impeachment attempt in 1939, because of her failure to quickly deport the active labor leader, harry bridges, it was these women from a separate move when they came forward to speak on her behalf and that every point of the diversity in her life that is the case. she also had close female friends here in d.c. that were meaningful to her. avro harriman's papers here at the library of congress give us clues to the importance of his older sister, mary harriman.
these two are the children of the famous robber barons, e.h. harriman. they are enormously wealthy and averell harriman is a friend and supporter to frances perkins to our whole career. the actually live together in a house in georgetown when social security act was drafted, so mary harriman is beyond a friend. she is actually at points supporting frances perkins because frances perkins remember has a husband who is institutionalized and for whom she has to provide care, so having wealthy free male friends who would help her allows frances perkins to provide for first her husband who has bipolar disorder, and then for daughter who developed it as well. >> could you tell us a little bit about her parents and their influence on her? >> that is very interesting. the question was can you tell us little bit about frances perkins
parents and their influence on her? for frances perkins it is not just your parents, it is also the remarkable grandmother that she had. she was not particularly close to mother although her mother seems to have run the house and it will ordered way but her mother was a more conventional women and had difficulty understanding this very unusual child that she had come a child who actually kind of scared her. her father had initially been very enthusiastic about having such a bright daughter, and you know taught her to read greek. he was an educated man himself. they came from an old new england family. they paid for her to go to mount holyoke but at some point he became a little worried about her becoming an intellectual himself and then worse yet she became a liberal intellectual, even worse than you see a discomfort in the relationship in adulthood between frances perkins and her parents.
her grandmother though however, lived to be 101 years old and she was very important to frances perkins her whole life. she had a lot of it these things about, putting your shoulder into things and when a door opens go through. in the america people can rise quickly, they can fall quickly and you have to be prepared for either one. she gave for things that helped france's. steel with it but another thing that was really remarkable is there were such long lived family. the grandmother of 101. her mother live to be 101. one frances perkins was a child people talked about the war, they were talking about the french and indian war. they had a remarkable grasp of history that when that. they have a stockade on their property where they defended themselves against indian attacks. they fought in the revolutionary war.
she was a descendant of james otis, who is famous for thinking that taxation without representation is the unjust. and she was also a close relation to oliver otis howard who was the founder of howard university. having these kinds of memories in her family meant that she brought to her job in dc a great sense of the nation's economic history, not just its political history and their effort to create the new deal was an attempt to deal with what they had seen to be the cyclical booms and busts. her grandmother had told her about what had happened to the girls that went to work at the mill in massachusetts. that story, economic boom, mills profitable, too much competition , wages fall, prices fall, jobs migrate to places where wages are lower because this is what they are dealing with in the new deal. this comes from frances perkins
grandmother. >> i think she is iconic and this has been a wonderful lecture. i read an oral history from the d.c. court historical society by an attorney whose last famous gardener who is a very prominent attorney in d.c. and he had worked with her in the labor department. in this oral history, and i understand times were very different then, and he said wonderful things but one of the things he said that was not wonderful was he said she was anti-semitic and that she would not let him hire many jewish applicants to the department, who he had wanted to hire for good do you know anything about that? is that accurate? >> yes, the question was that someone in the audience found an oral history about an attorney named gardener who said that he believed frances perkins was anti-semitic and that was why she had that given him a job.
>> no, he had a very high job in the department of labor. he worked with her and he wanted to hire a jewish attorneys under him and she would not let him do it. >> it may be that there were some people that she did not hire, but i can tell you that the top attorney was charles lozansky. he was jewish and he was her closest ally. she consulted him for everything and together they drafted policies that would enable many more jewish immigrants to get to the united states before the holocaust. this has been a surprise to some holocaust scholars to have frances perkins name emmert but his papers, anti-roe daily letters come to his parents in boston, the letters are at the massachusetts historical society. they talk about what she did to try to bring jewish and labor leaders and intellectuals to the united states but specifically,
at one point you wanted, she sent him to the ilo to represent the united states in the 1930's. the international level-- laborer organization and he asked her aren't you worried about me going? you are sending me to the middle of europe. i am jewish. and she said, don't be ridiculous. of course i am sending you. you are our best person. >> what reaction she may have had-- i will start again. i would like to ask what reaction frances perkins may have had in 1947 with the passage of the taft hartley act. i am sure she was displeased with that but did she react publicly or simply say it is all in a day's work and let it go? >> she was very concerned about the passage of the national labor relations act for just that reason.
it is interesting because she never testified in opposition to it but she said in her oral history that she wasn't really a supporter of it. she was very worried about allowing the federal government to get its nose into labor matters, that it would make the labor movement captive of changing political wings and that it might hurt the labor movement in the future. she wanted the national labor relations board though to be under the labor department said she could better control its but she was so unpopular and there was so much sexism against her on capitol hill, that they, the decision was purposely made for her not to head the national labor relations board. she picked many of the board members. and that they think she picked them all. she had to talk to 200 people before she would find three people who were willing to take those hot seat jobs, even then
in the depression when jobs were hard to get. it was known that a job trying to negotiate labor negotiations was going to be a. she was fearful there would be many additional changes, legal changes that remained over the years that could harm the labor movement. she believed in the right to organize. she had written to the national industrial recovery act that workers had a right to organize but she did not want the government that closely involved for just that reason. >> i wonder if you would address your queue having done all of this research, on her relationship with eleanor roosevelt. the roosevelt scholars who have written any number of books about elenore herself or franklin roosevelt have come all over the map on that subject and i'm curious as to what your views are on that relationship? >> it is actually a interesting relationship.
when the two women met, frances perkins was a well known workplace safety advocate she was a famous suffrage leader. she had spoken all over the city on all kinds of controversial issues. she was a public figure. she was the pivotal person in the settlement house movement. at that time, about the 1910 s, eleanor was shy. she was retiring at that point. she did not know whether she believed in shah ridge or not. she was active in the settlement house movement but as a volunteer were frances perkins was a leader. at the time that they met frances perkins was the much more important person, and the present it was much more of a career woman. early on, the letters and seem
to suggest eleanor leaned on france's. quite a bit in her early years as she prepared yourself in these remarkable ways. she grew in the ways that she did, she grew in her confidence. she had a remarkable gift for reaching out to people. eleanor roosevelt, frances perkins would have big ideas. she would implement it. eleanor roosevelt had the gift for making people understand why it was needed. the relationship changes, where eleanor roosevelt becomes a very important promoter of the things that frances and fdr are doing. and then later, after fdr dies, eleanor roosevelt is active in the u.n., and she is also very active in the civil rights movement and at the end of her life, eleanor roosevelt is the one he was lionized as the most
important woman in the new deal. and frances perkins is forgotten, living in a small upstairs dormitory bedroom at cornell where she was a visiting lecturer. >> i just wanted to thank you first of all for writing this. imus social worker by training and we have always heard about frances perkins, but we have been going back and doing some more research into the new deal and into what social workers did. the more i hear and learn about her life the more i understand the foundation that she created for an entire profession, which still struggles to this day to get recognition and known, but she was so in that tradition and so helped frame that tradition, many of the ethical principles we work on today were things that she learned and ensconce like her social justice this, her commitment to social justice bringing disparate groups
together to create change. so i want to thank you so much for doing that and for helping us know a little bit more about our history and helping everybody else know a little bit more about the history of social work and the importance of the profession. anything more you want to add about what you found out about, that would be interesting. >> thank you. i quite agree with you. she probably is the most effective social worker in american history. one of the things that i think is a interesting recurring question paul and her life and in ours today, as social workers to deal with changing the person to fit into society or to you find ways to change society to better suit the human needs? i think frances perkins went in the direction of trying to change society to better fit the human needs that she saw and that was sort of a interesting push and pull. she went the legislative route but was a huge believer in social work. in fact, when she would notice,
when she went to europe in the late 30's, she became very fearful that the french were much weaker than we thought, and when she said why, she said because i am a social worker and i could observe the little, i could see the fraying of the social fabric there. >> i was really thrilled to see-- because here again, this is a woman who needs a little more pr and unfortunately you know, eleanor roosevelt locks out a lot just as you know and the revolutionary harriet it is all thomas jefferson and the civil-rights era it is smart mccain. there are so many people that get blotted out but i am uncomfortable with that because people are always comparing eleanor roosevelt with frances perkins and you know, they both were interested in social work, they are both progressives, they
worked for al smith and they both have tubes for colbert the comparison stops. different opportunities, different burdensome they have different roles. when you were on fdr's team you play their role. frances perkins was an offensive linemen. she only got her name called when she was charged with holding, things like that whereas eleanor is the tight end on the left. she is there should take kitson thoreau blocks and occasionally she catches a touchdown pass. everybody played a role so does not fair to compare. it is more agree to pair-- compare frances perkins with-- he was a brilliant publicist in a way frances perkins wasn't so i really feel comfortable. we need to get frances and eleanor out of the same room because they are different. [laughter] >> first that is a great point in their to things i would like to say. first of all i talked about the friction between eleanor roosevelt and frances perkins
but it my book there's a picture which i think that shows them and it is eleanor roosevelt and frances perkins and old age, their heads bent close together. uco much they love each other. for whatever friction they was, they love each other. eleanor listen to frances perkins, frances was always very, was always very concerned about eleanor roosevelt's opinion. u.s seeger being attentive to eleanor roosevelt. there is no question they were close an important allies to each other. a feminist historian and i'm not sure who she was, someone mentioned it to me and stuck in my mind. where to beget the idea they could only be one important women at a time? [laughter] >> the past year has driven the press crazy because hillary clinton, sarah palin, michelle obama.
do you think of tear should have done more to defend her during the harry bridges raucus? i was always disappointed he let her get beaten up. >> that is true. there is no question that he did let her be used as a punching bag. he deflected the things we consider the new deal, that fdr did it. he let her be the one that got criticized for it and then he would sort of hold back during the satel strikes that were so controversial. you would see him and his press conferences when reporters when asked, wasn't he going to drag those workers out of there? he would say what and you asked ms. perkins about it? so, she did play the role for him. but, they both understood the importance of the world that she play. she kept trying to resign after the late 1930's. she tried to resign every year. he would never let her resign and once when she said, she boxed up her stuff, she was
going to give up for lease, and was about to leave the seat. he put his arms around her and said and reached up to her and he said france's how can you be so selfish? [laughter] >> my grandfather worked with frances perkins. he ended up being a director of the new york state department of labor statistics and so on and he would come down to washington and she would come up to new york. insofar as i am aware, he supported most of fdr's programs and so on, but i to know that he was very much opposed to the packing of the court and i think there was one other program. my question is, not to pay tribute to my dear grandfather so much but are you aware in your research of any points of friction over programs between fdr? >> frances perkins told fdr in
cabinet meetings in front of the other cabinet that the court packing thing with a very bad idea and not to do it. and she believed he was egged on by other people in the cabinet particularly komer cummings who was hoping she believed the big expansion of the court will allow him to become a justice. but he could not ordinarily have gotten it in the other way. harold ickes, she writes about it obliquely. she says, she did not like to criticize fdr even after his death but she said she thought it was a rare failure of political judgment on fdr's part that he did it but harold ickes road in his diary angrily that frances perkins was trying to oppose the court packing plant. >> we have another question. >> at the back of the room you had mentioned that there were
some things that were cut from the budget that you had written so much more and without pointing figures by guest at doubleday. would you like to do that? >> i think much of the fault is my own. the book kiai, the original book i wrote what had been in 900 page book, too long, too long but frances perkins had done so much. she has done as much as many presidents, was as a bald and has many things. we were trying to find places to cut. her personal life is very interesting. we have only talked about it a little bit but her personal life was very interesting and we thought would that be more appealing to a broader audience to hear more about her personal life? i wanted a lot of the labor history in their, because we are not being taught labor history in america. we don't know it.
it was often difficult for me to find these facts and i thought only by understanding this background, do you understand how they constructed the new deal. so i fought for more labor things. there was originally a lot more about the onset of the great depression, what brought it on and some of that got cut a few years ago when we were trying to finalize it. there was concern about whether that was just a bizarre type from the past and no one would be interested in hearing that again. [laughter] i am happy to say we worked more of that back again at the end. it is shocking how similar it is an frances perkins describes her oral history and other papers, watching it come on. so, when she is crafting a solution she is crafting a solution to what she saw the getting built. >> we have time for two more questions.
>> i am please to call on judson mclaury here. >> kirstin, did frances perkins have any relations with mary mcleod bethune or other black leaders, civil rights leaders? >> it is interesting, frances perkins was not a civil rights leader. she was not, she picked her spots. her issue was economic and labor conditions. her belief was everyone's life will improve if we deal with those things. she also was trying to get legislation through a congress that was dominated by southern democrats, who were really opposed to civil rights changes. she needed their votes so she doesn't take the lead on civil-rights issues. know what we do know about her is that the first person she hired as a young woman what she was working as a zsa zsa worker
was a black woman cornell blechard. we do know that one of her first actions when she became secretary of labor was to desegregate the cafeteria at the labor department. we do know that she came from a family of strong abolitionists. none of her family fought in and the civil war, at a lot of the times people bought their way up. she is not a civil-rights leader in the way that eleanor roosevelt is and she backs away from some very contentious issues. to get other things done. so she was also for example a very strong supporter of the family limitation movement. that is very controversial, remains very controversial. in 1916 she is way of in front of that. by 1930 she never talks about it again. >> follow-up. no, nevermind.
i am sorry. i lost it. >> i think we have one more question here. >> i also have the sense there were three or four more books behind the book that you wrote, but my question had to do on the international side. there is a very striking parallel to what is happening in england at this time with the bells, right? was there cross fertilization with the u.k.? >> absolutely. one of the things that is really interesting and almost unknown to days that frances perkins was very active in the international or-- which was part of the league of nations. she got the united states de'jon that ilo in 1934. yanna the topic was radioactive, the league of nations and the united states. fdr, when he had been the young assistant secretary of the navy had actually helped to arrange the first, one of the early i l omeetings in 1919 here in washington so frances perkins
attended that meeting in 1919. international labor organization brings labor officials, government officials and business officials together to talk about labor and economic issues so frances perkins is very aware. she is part of that discussion. she is a major labor official all of this year's end the english at that point are leading the way with unemployment compensation. she actually goes to england in the 1920's to learn how the english do their unemployment compensation system. she sees workers climbing on rickety letters and using shoeboxes and she said the-- that is not going to work in america. >> thank you. [applause] >> kirstin downey is the
contributor and former staff writer for "the washington post." where she focused on labor and economic issues for 20 years. she was a member of "the washington post" staff who receive the 2008 pulitzer prize for their coverage of the virginia tech shootings. for more information visit the authors web site at kirstin downey.com. >> booktv is asking, what are you reading? >> former house historian, race moc, what are you reading? >> right now i am reading richard bernstein's book on the founding fathers, the founding fathers reconsidered which is a new book that is just out and richard is a wonderful writer who characterizes the founding fathers of this country, looks at them with a fresh eye and it is just a wonderful book. another one that is closely
related is by richard beeman, delancy new book out on the constitutional convention and the men of the constitutional convention, so those of the two books i would read simultaneously right now. >> rett perlstein author of nixonland, what are you reading? >> i am reading the culture of narcissism which is a classic of the came out in 1979, a surprise bestseller even though it was the dense piece of intellectual argumentation sapota insley read by president carter. supposedly informed a speech he gave in which argued that america was suffering this crisis of confidence, and i'm reading it because i'm doing research on the 1970's for my next book. >> what are you learning from it? >> a lot about psychoanalysis and abject relations theory and there is like melody klein. it is the very tense and difficult work. i can imagine two people of-- to many people have read it.
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