Roosevelt House, together with the New York City Chapter of the Living New Deal, is pleased to present a discussion of the women who supported Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins in their pathbreaking endeavors to rescue the nation and create a better future. The panel will feature preeminent Eleanor Roosevelt biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook andRoosevelt House historian Deborah Gardner, and will be moderated by professor emerita of American history at Columbia University Alice Kessler-Harris.

When Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins went to Washington in March 1933, they did so with the support of millions of women who had voted for FDR’s promise of a “New Deal”—including those in the political and social welfare networks with whom they had worked for more than two decades. Among the more significant of those groups were the leaders of the women’s divisions of the Democratic party, the Women’s City Club, the League of Women Voters, peace activists, and the Women’s Trade Union League. Incoming Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, who shared many of Eleanor Roosevelt’s interests and values, was also connected, through her time with the New York State Industrial Commission, to the leading consumer protection groups and advocates for retirement and employment protection plans.

Secretary Perkins supported the women from networks who were already working in the Department of Labor, and brought along others, who helped her launch some of the New Deal’s most consequential programs—which the First Lady then promoted in her speeches and columns, and during her travels. Those groundbreaking initiatives included: the Civilian Conservation Corps, Social Security, minimum wage, worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, and a ban on child labor.

Blanche Wiesen Cook (’62) is Distinguished Professor of History and Women’s Studies at John Jay College and the CUNY Graduate Center, and former vice-president for research at the American Historical Association. Her definitive three-volume biography of Eleanor Roosevelt was called “monumental and inspirational…[a] grand biography” by the New York Times. Volume One, on the Times bestseller list for three monthsreceived many awards, including the 1992 Biography Prize from the Los Angeles Times, and the Lambda Literary Award. Volume Two was also a Times bestseller. She has been a guest commentator about Eleanor Roosevelt on numerous news programs as well as Ken Burns’ seven-part PBS documentary series, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.

Deborah Gardner has served as the Roosevelt House Historian and Curator since 2010. A Hunter College staff member since 2001, she assisted in the development of Roosevelt House’s new role as the college’s public policy institute. She is an expert on the history of the Roosevelts in New York and their New Deal associates, among them Frances Perkins, and has curated numerous exhibits on Roosevelt history and designed tours of the house as well as at New Deal sites in the city. She has published on legal history, women’s history, and the history of the city, and served on the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. She is an active member of the New York City chapter of the Living New Deal.

Alice Kessler-Harris is R. Gordon Hoxie Professor Emerita of American History at Columbia University, Professor Emerita in the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and former president of the Organization of American Historians. She specializes in the history of American labor and the comparative and interdisciplinary exploration of women and gender. Her books include: In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in Twentieth Century America (2001); A Woman’s Wage: Historical Meanings and Social Consequences (1990); A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman (2012); and, as co-editor, Protecting Women: Labor Legislation in Europe, Australia, and the United States, 1880-1920 (1995). In 2020, she was honored with the “Intelligence and Courage Award” from the Frances Perkins Center.

Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins Embrace Politics and Power for Women | Posted on November 6th, 2023 | Public Programs