Press contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217
Public contact: Center for the Book (202) 707-5221

March 3, 2009

Frances Perkins, "The Woman Behind the New Deal," is Subject of Book Discussion

Author Kirstin Downey’s New Book Traces Development of Social Safety Net in 1930s

Although she is no longer a household name, Frances Perkins was one of the most influential people of the 20th century. On Monday, March 23, at noon, Kirstin Downey will discuss and sign her new book, "The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience," in the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the Madison Building, located at 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. The event, sponsored by the Center for the Book and the Manuscript Division, is free and open to the public; no tickets are required.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt named Frances Perkins secretary of labor in 1933. As the first female Cabinet secretary, she spearheaded the fight to improve the lives of America’s working people while juggling her own complex family responsibilities. Perkins’ ideas became the cornerstones of the most important social-welfare programs and legislation in the nation’s history, including unemployment compensation, child-labor laws and the 40-hour workweek.

Arriving in Washington at the height of the Great Depression, Perkins pushed for massive public-works projects that created millions of jobs for unemployed workers. She breathed life back into the nation’s labor movement, boosting living standards across the country. As head of the Immigration Service, she fought to bring European refugees to safety in the United States. Her greatest triumph was creating Social Security.

Based on eight years of research, extensive archival materials, new documents and exclusive access to Perkins’ family members and friends, this biography is the first complete portrait of a devoted public servant with a passionate personal life and a mother who changed the landscape of American business and society.

Kirstin Downey, an award-winning journalist at The Washington Post from 1988 to 2008, is a business reporter whose work has focused on illuminating the human implications of important financial trends, particularly boom-and-bust cycles in the modern economy. Downey’s coverage of the aftermath of the savings-and-loan debacle of the late 1980s won her several regional press association awards.

"The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience" (Random House, $35) will be available for sale and signing following Downey’s discussion.

The Center for the Book was created in 1977 to stimulate public interest in books and reading. For information about its programs, publications and national reading-promotion networks, visit

The Library of Congress, the nation's oldest federal cultural institution, is the world's preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled collections and integrated resources to Congress and the American people. Many of the Library’s rich resources and treasures may also be accessed through the Library’s Web site and via interactive exhibitions on a new, personalized Web site at

# # #

PR 09-044
ISSN 0731-3527

Back to top