Gr 5-8-The first woman in history to hold a U.S. Cabinet post, Frances Perkins served as FDR's Secretary of Labor from 1933-1945. Faced with prejudice because of her sex, liberal political orientation, and lack of organized labor's support, she nevertheless left her mark on history with the passage of the Social Security Act (1935) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938). In this biography, the subject's personal life remains shadowy as Colman focuses on her struggles and triumphs as a labor reformer and public official. Cogent quotes from her letters and oral histories reinforce the portrait of Perkins as a courageous and determined pioneer. Black-and-white photographs and political cartoons stress her involvement in the New Deal. Initially Colman's writing style is smooth, but it deteriorates as she uses repetition and short, choppy sentences to emphasize important points. The frequent interjection of historical trivia also detracts from the flow of the narrative. Bill Severn's Frances Perkins (Hawthorn, 1976; o.p.), geared to an older audience, is a fuller and more skillfully written portrait.-Pat Katka, San Diego Public Library
More than a history of Perkins' life, this biography chronicles the major political events of the first half of the twentieth century. The reader gets a feel for the sweeping changes in the labor movement, as well as an intimate glimpse at Perkins that conveys the compassionate way she met the challenges of her public life. She began her career in social work, became the industrial commissioner of the state of New York, and served 12 years as the U.S. secretary of labor. The first woman cabinet member, she was appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and was responsible for establishing the Social Security system and unemployment insurance. Ahead of her time, Perkins was married for almost 40 years and never used her husband's name. The author uses photos and quotes from Perkins' writings effectively. The book contains a helpful chronology, a bibliography, lists of places to visit, and a chart of cabinet members appointed by Roosevelt.