Following these teachings, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship will organize an Evening Prayer to celebrate the feast day of Frances Perkins to bless our Lord’s name for her example of contending “tirelessly for justice and for the protection of all in need” (Holy Women, Holy Men, p. 369). After the Evening Prayer, EPF members invite participants to share a meal at Loaves & Fishes.
Frances Perkins, Public Servant and Prophetic Witness
Frances Perkins was the first woman to serve a President of the United States as a member of the cabinet.
Born in Boston in 1880 and educated at Mount Holyoke College and Columbia University, Perkins was passionate about the social problems occasioned by the continuing effects of industrialization and urbanization.
As a young adult she discovered the Episcopal Church and was confirmed at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Lake Forest, Illinois, on June 11, 1905, and was a faithful and active Episcopalian for the remainder of her life. After moving to New York, she became an advocate for industrial safety and persistent voice for the reform of what she believed were unjust labor laws. This work got the attention of two of New York’s governor’s, Al Smith and Franklin D. Roosevelt, in whose state administrations she took part.
President Roosevelt appointed her to a cabinet post as Secretary of Labor, a position she would hold for twelve years. As Secretary of Labor, Perkins would have a major role in shaping the “New Deal” legislation signed into law by President Roosevelt and which had great impact upon the nation as it emerged from the Great Depression of the early 1930’s.
During her years of public service, Frances Perkins depended upon her faith, her life of prayer, and the guidance of her church for the support she needed to assist the United States and its leadership to face the enormous problems of the time. During her time as Secretary of Labor, she would take time away from her duties on a monthly basis and make a retreat with the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor in nearby Catonsville, Maryland.
Following her public service she became a professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University. She remained active in teaching, social justice advocacy, and in the mission of the Episcopal Church until her death in 1965.