Frances Perkins Fall II course website

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Thursdays,  9:30-11:00 a.m. 5-week course begins 11/12

Michael Chaney
– Email:

Judy Fiterman – Email:

Required Book: Kirstin Downey, The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins–Social Security, Unemployment Insurance and the Minimum Wage, ISBN 978-1400078561.


Fortune Magazine

Frances Perkins Resignation Letter

August 5 1944 Colliers Weekly

Can We Thank Frances Perkins


Frances Perkins: Her Maine Roots and Early Career

Frances Perkins is the woman behind the New Deal, the driving force behind Social Security, the minimum wage, unemployment insurance, the 40-hour work week and the limits on child labor, all basic worker guarantees that helped to establish the modern middle class.  Perkins was a self-made woman whose roots were thoroughly in Maine and whose Yankee heritage and deep religious faith permeated her personal and political values. Furthermore, she was a pioneering figure with major accomplishments in the areas of industrial safety and workers’ rights well before her tenure as FDR’s Secretary of Labor.  This session will explore Frances Perkins’ early life and career.

Frances Perkins: Her Life and Times

This session will provide historical context to the life of Frances Perkins, who came of age during a period of transition from a rural to an industrial economy.  It will consider how Frances Perkins’ career was influenced by the progressive reform movements that developed in response to the effects of industrialism on working men, women and children. The boom and bust cycles of the new national economy ultimately lead to the Great Depression, the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the unprecedented opportunity to develop New Deal programs that provided, for the first time, a social safety net for the unemployed, disabled, and those beyond a working age, as well as legislation to greatly improve the employment conditions of the nation’s workers.  

Presenter: Michael Chaney

Michael Chaney is the Executive Director of the Frances Perkins Center.  He holds degrees in history from the University of Maine and the University of Connecticut and has spent his career managing non-profit organizations with missions to preserve history and the political process.


Thursday, November 19, 9:30 a.m.- 11:00 a.m.

All classes via Zoom

Frances Perkins: The Woman Behind the New Deal

Before accepting FDR’s invitation to become his Secretary of Labor in February of 1933, Frances Perkins outlined for the President-elect her New Deal vision.  This session will cover Perkins’ significant accomplishments as the first woman to serve as a cabinet secretary, particularly the enactment of Social Security and the sweeping changes of the Fair Labor Standards Act, emphasizing how her early work in New York laid the groundwork for the major policies of the New Deal.  It will consider the nature of the relationship between Perkins and FDR and how that relationship was memorialized in The Roosevelt I Knew, Perkins’ best selling “biography” of the President published a year after his death.  Chris Breiseth will also discuss his personal reminiscences of his time with Frances Perkins at Cornell, where she served a visiting professor in its School of Industrial and Labor Relations until her death in 1965.

Presenter: Dr. Christopher N. Breiseth

Chair of the Frances Perkins Center, Chris Breiseth was the President and CEO of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute from 2001 to 2008.  His thirty-year career in higher education included service as president of Wilkes University in Pennsylvania and Deep Spring College in California.  He is a graduate of UCLA and holds a master’s degree from Oxford University and a doctorate from Cornell University.  As a graduate student at Cornell, he became a close personal friend of Frances Perkins and was one of a group of students who invited her to live with them at Telluride House, an academic residence for students and invited faculty guests, for the last five years of her life.


NO CLASS Thursday, November 26!! Class will resume Thursday, December 3.


Thursday, December 3, 9:30 a.m.- 11:00 a.m.

Frances Perkins In the Eyes of Charles E. Wyzanski, Jr.,

Her Solicitor at the Department of Labor

Before Charles E. Wyzanski, Jr. was appointed to the federal bench by FDR, he served as Solicitor to the Labor Department during Frances Perkins’ first three years as Secretary of Labor.  Close examination of their relationship says much, not only about these two extraordinary individuals, but also about the history of the Wagner Labor Relations and the Social Security Acts, the constitutionality of which Wyzanski went on to successfully defend before the Supreme Court of the United States.

Presenter: Charles M. Wyzanski

Charles M. Wyzanski is the son of Charles E. Wyzanski, Jr.  Recently retired as a Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General, he began his 45-year legal career in the Bangor office of Pine Tree Legal Assistance frequently representing clients in social security and unemployment compensation cases–programs that had their origins with Frances Perkins and his father.  A graduate with honors of Harvard College and Columbia Law School, Wyzanski has served on the faculty of Harvard Law School, Boston University, Brandeis, and Tufts.  Among his present activities is the researching and writing of a book about hfather.


Thursday,  December 10,  9:30 a.m.- 11:00 a.m.

Jobs, Infrastructure and Art in the New Deal

When Frances Perkins said the New Deal was an attitude that “a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life,” her vision did not stop at economic security.  Her legacy includes the physical results — highways, bridges, murals and landscapes — created by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Public Works Administration, and Works Progress Administration. Illustrated with images and stories of Maine projects, this session will focus on jobs, infrastructure and art programs that changed the face of the nation and on Perkins’ role in their establishment.

Presenter: Sarah M. Peskin

A member of the Frances Perkins Center’s board of directors, Peskin is a former Chief of Planning and Legislation for the National Park Service’s North Atlantic Region.  In her thirty years of public service, she guided the preservation and interpretation of many nationally significant historic places.  Peskin oversaw the successful nomination of the Frances Perkins Homestead as a National Historic Landmark.  She is a graduate of Smith College and holds a masters degree in urban planning from New York University.


Thursday , December 17,  9:30 a.m.- 11:00 a.m.  

Frances Perkins Homestead National Historic Landmark

Recently designated as a National Historic Landmark and the future home of the Frances Perkins Center, the Frances Perkins Homestead in Newcastle consists of 57 acres of fields and woodlands on the Damariscotta River and the Brick House, built in 1837 as a wedding gift to Frances Perkins’ grandparents.  Continuously occupied by the Perkins family since the 1750’s, the site has included a working farm, an active brickyard at the river’s edge and a colonial garrison during the Indian wars.  It was at the Homestead that Frances Perkins spent every summer of her childhood, and it was her place of rest and retreat during her busy professional years in New York and Washington.  This session will include a discussion with Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall, Frances Perkins’ grandson.  Michael Chaney will discuss the work of the Frances Perkins Center and the vision for the future at the Frances Perkins Homestead National Historic Landmark.