( 1880-1965): social worker, secretary of labor
E. CLAIRE JERRY & JENNIFER E. CHRISTENSEN
Frances Perkins, secretary of labor from 1933 to 1945, was the first woman appointed to a presidential cabinet and one of only two cabinet officials to serve for the duration of Franklin Roosevelt's long presidency. Although her gender raised major obstacles for her throughout her career in public service, she was recognized for her outstanding intellect, training, experience, and rhetorical skill. In 1935 Washington, D.C., radio stations voted her one of the nation's five best political speakers (M:364). In 1936 the French press recognized her as one of the most brilliant orators in the United States (WRC:1003). Presidelt Roosevelt aonsidered her "the smartest woman in public life" ( Time, March 6, 1933:16), but the comment that best captures her public image came from Hugh Johnson, head of the National Recovery Administration: "Frances Perkins is the best man in the cabinet" (RIK:204). This chapter surveys the rhetoric of Frances Perkins, examining her biography, the rhetorical context, her personal rhetorical principles, and, finally, her rhetoric itself.
Frances Perkins was born in 1880 into a family of progressives. She was strongly influenced by her father, who began to teach her Greek when she was 7 or 8. He insisted that she attend Worcester Massachusetts) Classical High School, the local college prep school, where, as gne of the few girls attending, she developed a reputation as an articulate debater, often taking positions she did not necessarily hold for the sake of shocking the opposition. Perkins went on to earn a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College, where she majored in chemistry. But it was an American history course that most shaped her career. In this course the students entered factories, surveyed working conditions, and were taught humanistic methods (M:45).