How Solitude Saved a Nation: The Story of Frances Perkins

by HeatherGeo

On March 25, 1911 Frances Perkins was having tea near Washington Square, when the flames ignited.

On the west side of the square the top three floors of the Asch Building were ablaze. Residing on these floors was the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

“I came to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten, plain common working men and women.” —Frances Perkins

The common practice for industrial factories of the day was to lock the exit doors to prevent unauthorized breaks and theft of goods. Managers at the Triangle had  locked in workers for the day.

As the building burned, firemen stood helpless, their ladders were only tall enough to reach the 6th floor and the workers were on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors. Workers faced the horrifying choice of being overcome by smoke and flames, or desperately jumping to their deaths.

That day, 146 garment workers, mostly young immigrant women in their teens and early twenties died. The youngest victim of the fire was Mary Goldstein. She was 11.

Francis Perkins witnessed the horror.

She was indescribably changed.

Perkins became the Executive Director of the Committee on Safety and began a drive to improve factory conditions. Through her investigation she discovered much more than factory safety violations.

Perkins’ biographer George Martin wrote, “She discovered that one serious accident—say the loss of a man’s hand—could drive a steady, sober working family into penury.  Factory work, she learned, was so irregular that savings were continually exhausted.  Avoiding poverty therefore was not a question of simply liquor or laziness but also of safety devices on machines and of regularity of employment.”

Perkins went on to become an advocate for fair working conditions and the first woman to hold a U.S. Cabinet position.

Work Ethic:

Perkins reportedly went to All Saints Sisters of the Poor Convent for a day of silent retreat each month for all twelve years she worked in the cabinet. During these retreat sessions she drafted the Social Security program and Fair Labor Standards Act.


  • In 1928, became head of the State Labor Department under Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  • Appointed Secretary of Labor 1933.
  • Perkins was the first woman to hold a U.S. Cabinet position and was the driving force behind FDR’s New Deal.
  • On a single scrap of paper, Perkins wrote her visionary plan and handed it over to the President.
  • The dream list included Social Security, a public works program, 40-hour work week, a minimum wage, worker’s compensation, unemployment benefits, a federal law banning, child labor, and health insurance.

Action Tip:

Spend a few quiet moments (scratch out five minutes—just start with five minutes) meditating. Jot down your ideas. Choose one and take action. Be amazed at the results.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Carrie curtis September 8, 2012 at 6:00 PM

Hello sister nice website


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