Out of the ashes of a terrible tragedy rose a woman who was so horrified by what she saw, she dedicated her life to improving working conditions for women and men across the country.
Frances Perkins became the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet when President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her Secretary of Labor in 1933 where she served until 1945 - still the longest tenure of any U.S. Labor Secretary. Her contributions to the labor movement cannot be overstated.
It was under her direction that much of the New Deal was constructed, establishing laws to abolish child labor, set minimum wage and maximum hours, and guarantee workers the right to organize and bargain collectively. Her crowning achievement was the Social Security Act signed in 1935 which included systems for old age pensions, unemployment insurance, workers' compensation and aid to the needy and disabled.
Today marks the 108th anniversary of the harrowing Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that took the lives of 146 workers at a New York City garment factory, the vast majority of which were Italian and Jewish immigrant women and girls. Perkins witnessed as a number of these women jumped out of factory windows to try to escape the fire, plunging 10 stories to their deaths.
She would later proclaim this tragedy as "the day the New Deal was born."
As we near the end of Women's History Month, we remember those who sadly lost their lives and acknowledge the profound impact the tragedy had on the improvement of working conditions and the advent of workers' compensation as a whole.
We can only hope to carry on the legacy of Frances Perkins and continue the fight to protect workers and their families.