Today we remember Frances Perkins, who, as U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, was the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet.
Franklin D. Roosevelt called her “the cornerstone of his administration” for her tireless work in gaining passage of the Social Security Act of 1935 and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which established the minimum wage and prohibited child labor in most workplaces. Other New Deal efforts championed by Perkins included the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), unemployment insurance, a 40-hour work week, and worker safety regulations.
Less well known, though now better known since she won the 2013 Golden Halo over at Lent Madness, was her commitment to faith. Kristin Downey, author of The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’S Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience, writes, “Her faith served as a bedrock and a way to seek meaning in life when so much seemed inexplicable. These religious leanings became progressively more pronounced over time. When friends once questioned why it was important to help the poor, Frances responded that it was what Jesus would want them to do.”
Through incredible hard work and determination and in the midst of a political and social climate that is hard for 21st Century Americans to imagine, Perkins extended her theology of abundance to the whole nation for the benefit of all its citizens.
But it was hard, hard, hard work. How did she do it? Where did she find the daily strength to meet the challenges of leadership, both personally and professionally? I can’t imagine sustaining a lifetime of such dedication and accomplishment for “God, FDR, and millions of forgotten, plain common workingmen.”
In the video posted above, we hear and see the place from which she must have drawn her strength and resolve. Each summer, amid the solitude and beauty of creation along the tidal Damariscotta River at her family home in Newcastle, Maine, she experienced the resurrection of strength, single-mindedness, and moxie.
Philip Newell, in his small treasure about Celtic Christianity Listening for the Heartbeat of God, cites the ninth-century theologian, John Scotus Eriugena. He writes, “he taught us that we can look to creation just as we look to the Scriptures to receive the living Word of God.” Eriugena called Scripture the “little book” and creation the “big book,” which by reading we can divine the grace of God that surrounds us.
Frances Perkins must have been an avid reader, one no doubt grateful for this enormous, world-sized book of beauty and renewal, its type as tall as trees.
Where are your resurrection places? How do you renew your strength and faith? Don’t neglect them. Make time to visit. Take time for solitude. Renew your spirit for the work and ministry to which God calls each of us.
-Heidi Shott, who also served as Frances’ Celebrity Blogger during Lent Madness.