The Triangle Fire Centennial: Commemorating Frances Perkins

“Kirstin Downey has given us a rich, nuanced portrait of one of the most significant figures of the Age of Roosevelt. Frances Perkins has fallen out of the popular imagination; this fine book should do much to rectify that, and bring the first female member of a president’s Cabinet to vivid life once more.”
—Jon Meacham, author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

It was the deadliest workplace accident in New York City’s history. On March 25th, 1911, one hundred years ago today, a deadly fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York’s Greenwich Village, killing 146 workers. Frances Perkins, the subject of Kirstin Downey’s riveting biography The Woman Behind the New Deal, witnessed the Triangle tragedy firsthand and was forever changed by that sight. By the time she was 33 years old — and still did not have the right to vote — she had drafted and enacted dozens of pieces of legislation about workplace conditions, and made it one of the key issues that she brought to the attention of Franklin Roosevelt when she became his Secretary of Labor in 1933. Downey discusses Perkins’s amazing and overlooked legacy on the PBS special “Triangle Fire.” Watch the video or read the transcript here.

Learn more about the book on Kirstin Downey’s website.

“The New Deal was a big deal for America—and, as Kirstin Downey shows in this illuminating and sparkling book, Frances Perkins, my predecessor as Labor Secretary, was the moving force behind much of it. Her legacy included Social Security, unemployment insurance, and other initiatives that have improved the lives of generations of Americans. With wit and insight, Downey recounts this singular woman and invites us to celebrate her life.”
—Robert B. Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Former U.S. Secretary of Labor

“For his presidency to succeed, FDR needed a strong labor secretary to restore jobs and confidence. Perkins was that loyal lieutenant, as well as his unrelenting prod and social conscience.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“The story of Ms. Perkins turns out to be, in the sympathetic hands of Ms. Downey, a remarkably good read, surprisingly full of dramatic twists despite that motherly hat and low-profile manner.”
The Washington Times

“Downey’s biography traces Perkins’s career from its beginnings … and vividly conveys her subject’s determination and political savvy. … Her contribution to American history has often been overshadowed by the criticism she drew as a woman in power.”
The New Yorker