Chainsaw History - Part Two: Frances Perkins Transformed America In Less Than Five Years

Episode Date: September 29, 2021

The first woman to sit on a United States presidential cabinet, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins was the architect of the New Deal working with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and worked her entire life for ...the benefit of women, the poor, the immigrant, and working class as inspired by her deep religious faith. Read our full show notes and support our podcast over on Patreon!

Discussion (0)
Starting point is 00:00:00 So if anybody at Monticello had been a mac and cheese, it was that guy. Probably. Yeah. I don't think it was a thing anyway. Anyway, fuck Thomas Jefferson. Historically, he's very interesting. Thomas Jefferson is one of those guys that I like completely admired and quoted the shit out of when I was younger, all the way through my, like, libertarian phase, and now, like,
Starting point is 00:00:33 at the same time, like, I learn more about him as a, oh yeah, piece of shit and certainly not as courageous or as cool as he liked to pretend he was. No, he was real good at talking shit though. Yeah, big fucking mouth on him. Alrighty, let's talk about other people who have big fucking mouths on them. So speaking of people who didn't invent macaroni and cheese, which could be anybody, but in this case... I was about to say, that's literally pretty much every one of them.
Starting point is 00:01:00 Everyone except for one. Yeah. Yeah, in this case, we're going to be talking about Francis Perkins part two, but first let's introduce ourselves. This is Chainsaw History. We are the podcast where we take the important figures of history and give it the same respect a truck driver gives a gas station urinal. But not today, because Francis Perkins deserves our respect.
Starting point is 00:01:20 Yes, today we're going to, today we're lifting up instead of smacking down like we usually do. I'm Jamie Chambers. This is my sister, Bambi. Hello. And we are a comedy slash history slash whatever podcast. I'm a guy who took some history classes in college, but I am not a historian. I just play one on pretend radio.
Starting point is 00:01:40 I'm just here for the ride. We are back to continue the story of Francis Perkins, who is now the secretary of labor under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After working for the betterment of the poor and working class for decades of her life in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York, before moving to Washington DC at the insistence of the president elect. But before we dive back in, I thought we'd start with a poem, a poem. So in 1932, Mount Holyoke College, the all women alma mater of Francis Perkins and many
Starting point is 00:02:09 other women began a tradition of seniors singing bread and roses as part of their graduation ceremony. The song lyrics are taken from a poem written by James Oppenheim first written in 1911 and later published in an anthology by Francis's own friend, Upton Sinclair. So the poem takes its key phrase from an important speech in the movement for women's suffrage during an automobile campaign all over the state of Illinois. So these ladies organized cars full of women, drove all around the state with signs and gave speeches on street corners and hosted special events all to promote the women's right to
Starting point is 00:02:44 vote. And isn't this also a song because I think I've heard it. Yes. You absolutely have. They put it to music. It started so so basically I'm kind of giving you the background of this for a reason. So it started as a phrase that came out of the women's suffrage movement. So during this automobile campaign in Illinois, and this is to support the actual constitutional
Starting point is 00:03:04 amendment to allow women to have the right to vote, Helen Todd was a state factory inspector and she gave this speech and later published it in an article, quote, not at once, but woman is the mothering element in the world and her vote will go toward helping forward the time when life's bread, which is home, shelter and security and the roses of life, music, education, nature and books shall be the heritage of every child that is born in the country and the government of which she has a voice, unquote. So it's like a really good speech, got a lot of I got a lot of traction. So Oppenheim really caught on to the whole bread and roses phrase and put it into verse.
Starting point is 00:03:44 As we come marching marching in the beauty of the day, a million darkened kitchens, a thousand mil lofts gray are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses for the people here is singing bread and roses, bread and roses. As we come marching marching, we battle too for men, for they are women's children and we mother them again. Our days shall not be sweated from birth until life closes. Hearts starve as well as bodies give us bread, but give us roses. As we come marching marching unnumbered women dead, go crying through our singing their ancient
Starting point is 00:04:19 song of bread, small art and love and beauty their trudging spirits new. Yes, it is bread for which we fight, but we fight for roses too. As we come marching marching, we bring the greater days of rising of the women means rising of the race. No more drudge and idler tend that toil where one reposes, but a sharing of life's glories, bread and roses, bread and roses. So the pairing of bread and roses caught on with the working women first as Helen Todd was the first to connect the right to vote for women with the unfair conditions and demands
Starting point is 00:04:53 made upon them in the industrial world without allowing them a voice or a say in the government, which is supposedly by the people and for the people. Yeah, just not all the people. Right. So instead of just talking about rights or making a legal argument, she's literally making a moral case that women deserve both bread, meaning like the essentials and roses, like the enrichment's life has to offer to give it meaning and dignity. So that's really kind of where it, it started, you know, that that's a beautiful pairing.
Starting point is 00:05:20 It's like, it's not just about having just the bare scraps to survive, but you should have a life of dignity and have some, some pleasures and enrichments as well. It's like, it's a human right that everyone has women, men, everybody. Yeah, you know, when you live in the richest country in the world, you radical, radical idea. I know you're not supposed to work 16 hour days, just collapse, you can do it again and then go to church on Sunday. Oh, well, pregnant.
Starting point is 00:05:45 Don't forget while pregnant, also having small children for sure. So one of our sources for this episode is the documentary summoned Francis Perkins and the general welfare, and it plays this song during its closing credits. It's been adopted by labor organizers and even abortion rights activists throughout the world over the years. It's also worth noting that bread and roses also inspired the logo for and is the name of a caucus within the democratic socialists of America. Current members of the DSA include House Representatives Cory Bush, Rashida Tlaib and
Starting point is 00:06:16 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, bread and roses. So the year after her old college adopts that song for graduation, Francis Perkins prepared to move away from her institutionalized husband and her daughter, who seems to have been severely bipolar or had some other kind of like mental health condition. I'm not at all qualified or informed enough to diagnose anyone, but it really seems like Susanna Perkins inherited her dad's issues and even though she lived to be an old lady, she had problems like her mother had to support her until the day she died. So Francis is going to leave both husband and daughter behind and move to DC.
Starting point is 00:06:58 And as we mentioned last time, she absolutely did not actually want this job at all. But instead it was like when the president called on her, she felt like she had a duty and if she was going to do this job, she was going to do it right. So called to serve, this is what Francis Perkins had to say herself, quote, I came to Washington to work for God FDR and the millions of forgotten plain common working men, unquote. And she was not about to make this incredible sacrifice to her family and her privacy to just be like a placeholder, just be like, ooh, I'm the first woman cabinet member. She knew from her time in New York that FDR could go either way when it came to labor.
Starting point is 00:07:36 So if she was going to serve, she was going to get some shit done. She only accepted the position under her own terms. According to the Francis Perkins Center, quote, she outlined for him a set of policy priorities that she would pursue a 40 hour work week, a minimum wage, unemployment compensation, compensation, abolition of child labor, direct federal aid to the states for unemployment relief, social security, a revitalized federal employment service, and universal health insurance. That was her checklist going in. And she's like, you want me to do this job?
Starting point is 00:08:14 You got a promise to back me on every single one of these things or I'm not doing it. Roosevelt is quoted as saying, I suppose you're going to nag me about this forever, which she assured him that she would. And with that, he promised to back her on her wish list during her time in the cabinet, only one of two people to stay with Roosevelt for his entire presidency, which as we both know, it was really fucking long. Yeah, he had a nice long run. Yeah, longer than literally anybody else.
Starting point is 00:08:42 Yeah. And it's likely. And I guess this is one of the reasons why he got a lot of shit done. Yeah. A lot of the stuff he's most credited for, at least when it comes to like the new deal is all her, you know, World War Two, you know, that's that's outside of her realm, but that's a whole other story. So it's likely that their time together in New York is where Francis learned exactly
Starting point is 00:09:04 how to deal with Franklin. In fact, she wrote the book on it, literally after the president's death, Francis wrote a biography titled The Roosevelt I Knew, which was a best seller, like considered one of the definitive like Roosevelt biographies for a while. In it, she described a leader who was always most influenced by whichever advisor had his ear and often whoever was the last person he met. I have had a boss exactly like that. That's just like whoever the last person who made a good case was the person they would
Starting point is 00:09:33 always listen to. So that's why she had a system for giving FDR no wiggle room when it came to their plans and agreements. As described by David Brooks, quote, before meeting with the president, she would prepare a one page memo outlining the concrete options before him. They would go over her outline and Roosevelt would state his preference. Then Perkins would force him to repeat himself. Do you authorize me to go ahead with this?
Starting point is 00:09:55 Are you sure? They would have a little more discussion and then Perkins would underline his decision a second time. Are you sure you want item number one? Do you want items number two and three? You understand that this is what we do and this is who is opposed? The purpose of this exercise was to sear a photograph of the decision into Roosevelt's memory.
Starting point is 00:10:13 Then she would ask him a third time, asking him whether he explicitly remembered his decision and understood the opposition he would face. Is that all right? Is it still okay? Unquote. She said this technique also worked with 10 year old boys. Yep. So she like got really good at managing FDR and making sure he had no room to say, you
Starting point is 00:10:34 know, what are you talking about? I didn't agree to this. It's like, no, we went over this over and over again and I made you write it down. Yeah. Because also at that point, if he's like, oh, I don't remember that. He also looks like a complete and total buffoon. However, he would also warn her a lot. He would send her on stuff, on missions, even letting her know going in, like, if you get
Starting point is 00:10:55 away with it, I'll back you up. But if this turns goes bad, I've never heard of what you're talking about and I'll hang you out to dry. I mean, unlike her relationship with Al Smith, the former governor of New York, she didn't actually trust FDR, which is why she kind of had to manage him. But she also knew with him, she could get a lot of stuff done. So she had a lot of challenges in her new job, even without this ambitious wish list. For one thing, back then the United States border patrol was under the umbrella of the
Starting point is 00:11:24 Department of Labor. So literally border patrol is suddenly her problem. And it kind of made sense because right back then for the immigrant and migrant labor have always been a huge part of our country, especially during this point of waves of migration and the Industrial Revolution, you know. Yeah. And, you know, it's an important part of our industry now. And apparently we've forgotten that.
Starting point is 00:11:49 But at this point, like it was explicitly like the Department of Labor was directly in charge of that. And I mean, it's only like the idea of even having a closed border was only 10 years old. Border patrol had only been established during the Immigration Act of 1924. And like racism and brutality against foreign born workers were so common at this point that Francis had already been speaking out against border patrol years before she'd even like became their boss. So according to the documentary summoned that I mentioned earlier, quote, Perkins inherited
Starting point is 00:12:21 a corrupt Labor Department that had become a platform to shake down and harass foreign workers who are arrested, denied lawyers and held without charges. After putting it into the corruption, she issued a memo to employees to treat aliens in a manner worthy of the dignity and professed humanity of the United States. Sadly, these reforms didn't last very long. The White House eventually placed border patrol under the authority of the Department of Justice. And over the decades, the laws and practices only made things worse over time.
Starting point is 00:12:50 To this day, U.S. Border Patrol remains arguably one of the most brutal branches of the federal law enforcement. Just a bunch of white supremacist thugs and ice is horrible and should be abolished. But at least she tried to make border patrol suck less while she was in charge of it. So, good for her. Good for her. She didn't succeed in making border patrol not suck. But that's okay.
Starting point is 00:13:15 She's one woman. Yeah. Couldn't enact permanent change there, but she at least gave it a shot. Now while the press would often call her Ma Perkins, in person Frances insisted on being called Madam Secretary and with her fussy New England insistence that would require the respect her office and experience demanded. This is in the face of chauvinistic Labor leaders who were angry they were passed by in favor of a woman because a lot of high level labor organizers really thought they
Starting point is 00:13:40 should have a job and a son, a chick. Oh, I'm sure. Yeah, I'm fucking for sure, sure about that. Yeah, she had to deal with just stupid sexism the entire time she was in office or held her position. If she were in office right now, she'd have to deal with stupid sexism. I can only imagine being the very, very first one in office. That would just be fucking terrible.
Starting point is 00:14:02 Ugh. So yeah, being taken seriously by men with their own ideas wasn't always easy. So as part of her very first cabinet meeting, Frances reports her number one priority. Quote, every state practically has exhausted its reserves. The federal government must appropriate a very large sum of money to feed the hungry. Unquote. But Roosevelt's are going to Roosevelt and if there's one thing that a Roosevelt loves, it's trees.
Starting point is 00:14:27 During his time in office. Love trees. It sure does, all the Roosevelt's. During his time in office, Theodore Roosevelt had doubled the number of sites within the National Park System. Now his fifth cousin, Franklin Delano, was inspired by the movie The Plow that Broke the Plains and got it in his head that trees could be the solution. Just take all the unemployed men and send them out into the wilderness to plant more
Starting point is 00:14:49 trees. See, this is being problematic. There is an issue here. So and it's like she was really sort of annoyed by this at first. So Frances managed you to push through $500, $500 million in immediate relief to the states, which even all like the, the anti-government states rights folks still just grabbed all that cash as fast as they could. Suddenly all their principles, it's amazing how all their principal, it's like all those
Starting point is 00:15:16 people who bitch about, oh, lazy people taking government handouts and then they all immediately took the PPP loans during the pandemic for their business and did not mind that free money at all. Same thing. So all the people who spoke out against all the shit Frances and FDR were trying to do all grabbed for that money. Meanwhile, Frances had to deal with the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program she was intensely skeptical of from the outset, quote, how wonderful it would be to have groups
Starting point is 00:15:44 of these men to take a train to go into the woods. I remember listening to it with some horror as I began to picture the unemployed men I knew who would wonder what in the world to do with an axe if there was an axe, unquote. So these are all these like, like factory, unemployed factory worker immigrants, you know, from the East Coast cities and just going to be just shoved out in the middle of nowhere. Oh yeah, that, that, yeah, that's not problematic at all. But as usual, if there was a job to be done, she got to work figuring out the best way
Starting point is 00:16:14 to accomplish the goal. And there was only one organization capable of handling the logistics and transportation required to take hundreds of thousands of unemployed men from the East Coast and work in reforesting parts of the Western United States. She made sure to limit the program to young and healthy men on relief. And according to an article on, quote, the United States Army organized the transportation of thousands of enrollees to work camps around the country. By July 1, 1933, 1,433 working camps have been established and more than 300,000 men
Starting point is 00:16:47 put to work. It was the most rapid peacetime mobilization in American history. Under the guidance of the U.S. Forest Service, the National Parks Service and the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, CCC employees fought forest fires, planted trees, cleared and maintained access roads, reseeded grazing lands, and implemented soil erosion controls. Additionally, they built wildlife refuges, fish rearing facilities, water storage basins and animal shelters. To encourage citizens to get out and enjoy America's natural resources, FDR authorized
Starting point is 00:17:20 the CCC to build bridges and campground facilities, unquote. So it was a huge thing that, so Francis got the United States Army and it was like literally run like army camps. They even were like spare uniforms and used, you know, army gear. See, yeah, I still see this as being problematic. I mean, starting with the phrase work camp. Yeah. Well, I mean, it wasn't, it wasn't, it wasn't forced.
Starting point is 00:17:46 It wasn't like forced labor, but it was a way. It was, it was like a job, it was like a work, a jobs program. So like the way it worked was the men would get $30 a month, 25 of it had to be sent back to their families. So they got five bucks for themselves just for, you know, to have a little bit of cash because the majority, you know, of their needs were being met, you know, they're being fed and clothed and housed in these camps. So it's like, they're, they're definitely like, I was, I actually listened to some songs
Starting point is 00:18:15 there was like some little folk songs that were praising the CCC and others that completely bitched. Like, why did I join this damn thing for $5 a month to be treated like shit? There's actually some cute little like bar room drinking song type things that, that you would enjoy. So it's like, it's not like it was 100% love, but then other people had a lot of good things to say about it. So the program ended when World War Two broke out and by then the CCC had planted more than
Starting point is 00:18:40 3.5 billion with a bee trees, more than half of the reforesting in the history of the United States. It built structures in state and national parks that are enjoyed to this very day and established more than 700 new state parks. Nice. As a side note, legendary actors Walter Mathow as in Grumpy Old Men and Raymond Burr, Mr. Perry Mason himself and famous test pilot Chuck, I broke the speed of sound Yeager also were alumni of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Starting point is 00:19:11 That's cool. So they're young men. They were out there doing their thing, getting their $30 a month. So all this is going on, Francis did not have a permanent home in DC until a friend offered her a place. Mary Harriman Ramsey was a rich widow and activist and she and Francis had been friends for years who offered to share a townhouse in Georgetown, allowing Francis to focus on her work while Mary attended the household and providing each other access to their friends
Starting point is 00:19:36 and political allies. And it gave Francis something she valued most of all, privacy. None of her colleagues or even her own staff had a clue where she lived or with whom. So she had this like secret little code. She had a secret living arrangement with another woman. With another woman. And that's one of those things like there is zero historical evidence that that's anything more than a friendship and partnership.
Starting point is 00:20:01 But you know, in my personal head canon, I would not be surprised at all if there was something else going on. You know, who knows, doesn't really matter. I mean, there was definitely a lot of love and affection between these two women, whether it was like sexual or not. Well, yeah, I mean, that's the thing about women is we can have lots and lots and lots of love and affection. I consider Monica my best friend and my soulmate.
Starting point is 00:20:23 I just don't like her sexually. She's like my sister or myself, but yeah, women can do that. We can have just platonic love and affection for one another. Yeah. I mean, it's so private that if something was romantic going on between them, we would never know. And we don't. So, so, I mean, whatever, whatever their relationship was, their business and completely
Starting point is 00:20:43 private. We don't know. However, it is, you know, incredibly important to her to have that little little island of peace that she could run away to when she got the hell out of DC. Now Francis was pushing hard on relief for the American people, the top priority being a massive public's worth program, a massive infrastructure bill that would build schools, bridges, airports and much more. Does that sound familiar?
Starting point is 00:21:07 All part of FDR's big push in his first 100 days in office because FDR this like, we're going to do all this shit in the first 100 days. And to this very day, now presidents are always graded on their first 100 days ever since FDR started that fine tradition of saying, we got to get some shit done. You don't just sit on your ass except me because I'm in a wheelchair, but it would cost billions of dollars. This program, Francis wanted would cost billions of dollars and create countless jobs. But FDR was slippery in his habit of listening to the loudest and most recent voice almost
Starting point is 00:21:37 cost the country. From the documentary, summoned, quote, after Perkins investigation, the various recovery ideas were merged into a single proposal, including her plan for public works. But as she soon discovered that budget director Lewis Douglas had talked Roosevelt into taking it out. Now it's Francis talking, Roosevelt could take other people's advice with an inadequate understanding of what it was they were advising him, refusing to give up. Perkins arranged a last minute meeting before the bill went public and convinced the president
Starting point is 00:22:07 to put public works back in. So it's like, we're this close to like one of the biggest parts of the New Deal just sort of not happening. Just because FDR was listening to the other guy. Just because some assholes were like, hmmm, always like, this is going to cost a bunch of money. Yeah. No shit, buddy.
Starting point is 00:22:23 Fuck all of that. Anyhow. Yeah. And but you know what? The New Deal caused prosperity and growth. And that's the thing, like, yes, there are lots of stuff, like things like public works and infrastructure programs, they, they do cost a lot of money, but they, but you got to look at it like an investment, you know, it's about what you get back from the money
Starting point is 00:22:44 you spend. And yeah, at this point, it's like it was a double edge thing is not only did the country desperately need all this shit, but it desperately needed to put people to work. So there you go. So on June 16th, 1933, the National Industrial Recovery Act, known as the NRA, and not to be confused with that other NRA we are more familiar with today, was signed into law. And among the many regulations that accompanied it, it explicitly protected the right of American workers to organize.
Starting point is 00:23:12 When addressing the American Federation of Labor in San Francisco, Francis said, quote, the opportunity of collective bargaining is established. The act providing that employees should have the right to organize and bargain collectively. Section 7A in the National Recovery Administration as to what ought to be American policy in regards to rights of labor. So while there was an initial wave of enthusiasm for the NRA, the sudden established right to organize caused labor strikes to break out all over the country, creating a lot of disruption and what was already an uncertain time.
Starting point is 00:23:43 And because the NRA was like a voluntary agreement between government and private business and didn't really have like legal remedy built into the law, it, it turned the program into a giant controversial mess after about a year. And in 1935, the Supreme Court ruled most of the law to be unconstitutional. Fortunately, however, they left the public works section of it alone, even if not much else in it did. And Francis, like she always considered the NRA like it was kind of like a good first attempt and deserved to have follow up that never fully materialized sadly.
Starting point is 00:24:16 It was like, they never followed up. You don't say there was a little bit of follow up mostly from Francis herself, who worked long hours and pushed herself. Staff half her age found her schedule exhausting. The press followed her in public and were highly critical of her, even as she distrust, distrusted reporters and refused to share a single detail of her personal life. There's one story in which she told reporters that the actress Greta Garbo was staying on the third floor of a hotel, so they would leave her the hell alone and she could take
Starting point is 00:24:46 a meeting. She just lied to them saying, there's a movie star up there. But every so often, Madam Secretary would hit a wall when she could literally just not take it anymore. When that happened, she retreated back to Newcastle, Maine, and she would just go back there and collapse and like, stay in bed for weeks and just have food brought to her. Because she was just like, she just pushed and pushed and pushed and she was just done. Yeah, until she was almost dead and then had to take a nice long rest.
Starting point is 00:25:14 She had to hibernate, yeah. So once recovered, she'd get back to work and leave zero trace of the vulnerability that forced her to retreat from the world. So she was like a couple weeks every now and then, she would just have to just completely crash. Yeah. So in 1934, Frances was working hard on a national program of unemployment insurance like the one she'd helped to implement in New York State.
Starting point is 00:25:35 At the same time, the plight of poor elderly people was gaining national attention because you know, back then there was no social safety net. So if you were a working class... Once you're old and poor, you're pretty much just destitute and homeless and... Yeah, it's pretty shitty. So yeah, it was a really awful situation to be in when you're old. You were just, if there wasn't like family or some local community thing to help you, you were just fucked.
Starting point is 00:26:02 You could work all your life and if you didn't have no ability to save and these people didn't concern what they paid back then. It's awful. So, you know, it was a national problem and she pushed FDR for combined legislation to help tackle both of these problems. So Congress was desperate to adjourn for the summer because it was like a major heat wave in summer in D.C. They all wanted to get the hell out of there.
Starting point is 00:26:24 And FDR took Frances up in the idea of appointing a cabinet committee to create a plan for Congress for the next term. So like before everybody left, they figured out what the deal would be and they assembled this committee which will allow FDR to kind of control the process of drafting this legislation. But it also meant they didn't have a lot of time, like especially for a giant national program that's bigger than anything that's ever been done in the history of the country. So he appointed a number of high-ranking officials to the committee and installed Frances as the chair.
Starting point is 00:26:53 Armed with an initial budget which provided for unemployment relief, she organized a large team to turn these ideas into legislation. And everyone had different ideas about how these things should be done, plus there were requirements from the President of the United States because he wanted the program to be self-sustaining. One of FDR's really good ideas that he pushed for was the idea that Americans had to pay into the program themselves because if they did, then it wouldn't be just an entitlement. If you're paying in, then no one's ever going to be able to take it away from you.
Starting point is 00:27:22 It would be political suicide to take away the money people have been paying in for their whole fucking lives, which is why Social Security is still considered this sacred, untouchable thing to this very day. Yup, even though they still, you know, use the funds and they're fucking up. They certainly tiptoe and mess with it and talk about age of eligibility and all that. So having already seen what the Supreme Court could do to some of her ideas, Frances had to make sure they'd actually be constitutional because she already saw what happened to the NRA when most of that got wiped out by a judicial decision.
Starting point is 00:27:57 But it was at a private party the Supreme Court Justice Harlan Stone gave her a bit of off-the-record advice, as reported by Frances herself. Quote, the taxing power of my dear, the taxing power of the United States, you can do anything under it. I went back to my committee and I never told them how I got my great information. As far as they knew, I went out into the wilderness and I had a vision. Unquote. So Supreme Court Justice literally whispers in her ear, taxes, you make it a tax, you can
Starting point is 00:28:24 get away with anything. It's literally exactly the same strategy Obama used to, you know, push his idea for because using the taxing authority of the United States, it lets you get around other constitutional issues. By designing a program in which citizens contributed through payroll taxes and would later pay out a retirement benefit, it made the program politically invincible. It would deliver the government checks to recipients through the United States post office, another constitutionally guaranteed institution.
Starting point is 00:28:54 So and it had a name we're all quite familiar with these days, Social Security. You know, the program that literally kept my daughter alive during cancer treatments. So kind of think it's cool. Our dad spent many years receiving. So now Francis had to convince the American people. On a radio address, she described it, quote, it includes provisions for unemployment insurance and for old age pensions or old age insurance for the paying of regular and steady and fair income to the people who may be laid off who no fault of their own in the next depression.
Starting point is 00:29:27 Unquote. On the last night they had, Francis brought the committee to her house and locked them inside with a bottle of scotch until two in the morning and they managed to complete what had once seemed completely impossible, a comprehensive national legislative proposal for Social Security done in six months. The bill included unemployment insurance, old age pensions and universal health care. Now she had to roll up her sleeves and push the bill through Congress, even as her personal life took another turn for the tragic.
Starting point is 00:29:58 So the end of 1934, Francis's dear friend and housemate, Mary Rumsey, fell from her horse while hunting and died from her injuries. Oh, that sucks. Yeah. She was doing, that's what you mean, doing rich people like hunting and had an equestrian accident. She died. And so Francis lost the home that had been her local refuge as well as the supportive
Starting point is 00:30:18 relationship that she'd relied on during all this time. But there wasn't any time for her to feel sorry for herself and it was work to be done as usual. There was a rival plan being touted in newspapers and street corners to Social Security, dreamed up by a doctor named Francis Townsend. So yes, we have Francis versus Francis up in this podcast. Awesome. Francis Townsend's popular plan, which like I said, initially super popular, said that
Starting point is 00:30:44 every American over 60 would would receive $200 a month paid for by a 2% national sales tax. And it wasn't just like a sales tax, it was like a sales tax, it was called a transactional tax. Like any business transaction of any kind would be subject to this 2% tax. And by law, the recipient of the funds would have to spend all of it within 30 days, which is interesting. I have no idea how that would be enforced.
Starting point is 00:31:08 Yeah, what? They can't. Okay. And, and if all the, no, if all the, yeah, exactly, there's some, there's some flaws in the Townsend plan, but it sounded so good in terms of like easy street corner rhetoric. Because if, and if all that mattered was national popularity, the Townsend plan would have been what we ended up with, even though it was doomed from the outset. I mean, it's easy to imagine.
Starting point is 00:31:29 You understand $200 a month was double what the American average American worker earned in 1934. So that's like, suddenly you hit 60 and you're suddenly making bank every month, but you were required by a lot of spend it all. And it was all paid for by this small transactional tax, but when like, yeah, that's fucking problematic and weird. Yeah. And then when actual like economists, yeah, when economists actually broke it down, like
Starting point is 00:31:53 this sounds great until you realize that, that the tax only covered less than a third of what the payout would be. So if you actually wanted to fund the program, you'd need to possibly tax up to 14% on every single transaction in the United States. And suddenly it doesn't sound so great. Yeah. A month check or whatever, but at the same time, okay, yeah. And maybe that won't even raise up.
Starting point is 00:32:18 What about people who made more than that or, you know, no, the whole thing sounds stupid and problematic. Completely messed up. Well, this was, it had nothing to do with that. Like, like you hit 60, it didn't matter whether you're working or not. This complaint is just the moment you hit the age, you're starting to get the money. And because it was so much higher than what regular people made, like it essentially would have been a giant transfer of wealth to just old people everywhere.
Starting point is 00:32:40 It's a very strange idea. Huge influx of wealth than they immediately had to spend, but they had to, they had to spend it all or be subject to penalty, but like I said, weird plan. So, but there were 25 million signatures in support of Dr. Townsend's idea. So they really had to fight against it in Congress. Frances was accused in public and on the floor of Congress. She was accused of being a guess what, Bambi? A communist?
Starting point is 00:33:08 Yes. Socialists, basically, yes. Clearly trying to take over the government from within. Yep, yep. It took her additional seven months of wrangling, negotiating speeches, radio addresses, articles, letters, and backroom deals to push this damn thing forward. She probably, it felt like she aged 10 years in this one year, having to wheel and deal all these asshole lawmakers.
Starting point is 00:33:30 Now, old age pensions were the most popular part of the bill. So they kind of moved things around. So it was in the front of, it was like front loaded. So okay, the thing everybody likes is up front, the old age pensions. Next before unemployment insurance, which was a little bit more mixed along with workers' compensation and aid for the poor and disabled. And unfortunately, the one place that the socialism label stuck was the plan for national health insurance.
Starting point is 00:33:54 So yeah, we could have had universal health care before World War II. But they were such dicks about it. Imagine that. It was not going to happen. But finally, on August 14th, 1935, FDR signed the Social Security Act. Now, a woman named Maureen Mulliner was an assistant to an important senator during this whole process. She's quoted as saying, quote, I don't think President Roosevelt had the remotest interest
Starting point is 00:34:19 in a Social Security Bill or program. He was simply pacifying Francis, unquote. Oh my goodness. So the greatest things that he did in office, he'd... At least that one chick. And she were for Senator Wagner, who was definitely on Francis's side of the aisle. Did it for Francis. Well, at least he fucking did it.
Starting point is 00:34:39 He did it. Okay. I mean, he kept his promise. He did it. Tobacco. She kept working on her wish list. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 reestablished the rights of workers to collectively bargain after the Supreme Court had knocked it off.
Starting point is 00:34:56 And this led to a huge rise in union membership throughout the country. In June of 1938, saw the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This created the federal minimum wage at the time, 25 cents per hour, and set maximum working hours of eight hours per day, 44 hours per week for most workers. Child labor under 16 years old was banned completely, and under 18, you couldn't work at any kind of hazardous job that was riskier for injuries. She didn't want children murdered. Hooray.
Starting point is 00:35:29 Oh, you don't want, you know, I guess seeing a couple of children taking their smoke break with their one good hand they have left after the other one got mangled in the machines. That probably lost its charm after she saw dozens of little girls die out of a window. Yeah. So, except for universal health care, Frances had achieved her wish list within five years holding the position. Wow. With the exception of the universal health care, she just got old people and young children
Starting point is 00:35:59 health care. So, these tramps are where the documentary summoned chooses to end because her mark clearly made on American life that lasted this very day. But Frances would not only live for decades more, she served an additional seven years as Secretary of Labor all the way until Roosevelt's death in 1945, and her troubles were not exactly over. So, like, you know, normally Frances is very polite even if she could be kind of curt, but she could get kind of heated when it came to fighting on behalf of workers and labor
Starting point is 00:36:30 organizers. So, there was a big infamous sit down strike at General Motors, and Frances called the chairman of the board at GM and called him names like scoundrel and skunk for not agreeing to the demands of the union. She is quoted as saying, you don't deserve to be accounted among decent men. You'll go to hell when you die. That's awesome. She fucking told the president of General Motors, he's going to hell.
Starting point is 00:36:56 Piece of shit. Give your guys better pay. Yeah, she probably wasn't wrong either. Just saying. What? My automotive CEO wasn't the greatest guy on earth. Probably not. I'm going to go with no.
Starting point is 00:37:08 Yeah. Yeah, fuck him. Yeah, I don't even know anything about that, and I'm going to go with I believe her. I choose to take Frances aside on this one. If there is a hell, he's roasting in it right now. All right. Controversy arose when a labor leader from Australia named Harry Bridges led a general strike in San Francisco.
Starting point is 00:37:29 General strike is when everybody stops working and it really fucks everything, completely shutting down economies. It's great. If we could arrange a massive nationwide general strike, we could get anything we wanted. Yeah. But. Now, however, this guy was accused of being a communist and his enemies wanted him deported for subversive activities.
Starting point is 00:37:53 And now here's the thing. Me and you are so sick of hearing about this, but this is where I have to be fair. It turns out his accusers were actually correct. When the Soviet Union collapsed and later documents were declassified, it turns out he actually was an agent for the USSR and his code name was Rossi. So every once in a while, this shit was true. This was the problem. It's like every once in a while and it's like, see, we were right and one that one time.
Starting point is 00:38:23 And once again, to be fair, like we're in a very different time. Now I roll my eyes, but at the time there really was this, this real fear that was a problem. Like the one people talk about how there's like, oh, the, you know, you're a communist like the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union never actually achieved communism because the idea of communism is actually to dissolve all world borders and create one massive world state led by the workers. It's literally workers of the world unite.
Starting point is 00:38:53 So there really was this move to organize workers in other countries to do this very thing. They really, like the end game really was for communism to take over the whole world. So they weren't wrong that it's a thing that they were trying to make happen. It's just that, you know, the hysteria was usually way overblown into this. And now it's completely overblown and ridiculous. So anyway, no one knew that at the time. So it was just this controversy, you know, people slinging mud on both sides and she
Starting point is 00:39:21 was sticking out for the labor organizers of which he was one. So it was a big, ugly court battle with supporters on both sides. But the deportation hearings were operated under the Department of Labor, which meant that was under Francis's umbrella, making her the big target for all the newspapers. So accusations flew her way. They called they said she was a Russian Jew and secret communist. Oh yeah. It's great.
Starting point is 00:39:45 Oh, that's not racist. Literally the fucking 1930s. Jew 1930s bingo card of bigotry. Oh my God, Russian Jewish communists and FDR revealed himself to be the fair weathered friend he could be and let her hang out to dry. And he wasn't the only one like her allies in the legislature kept their mouth shut as nobody was willing to stick her their necks out for her. It was really only her corrupt as shit, but loyal as hell friends from Tammany Hall back
Starting point is 00:40:16 in New York that stayed by her the whole fucking time. So you need your crony political guys, you know, you need your muscle to have those guys. They stuck with her because she she supported them, even though everybody knew that they were not exactly playing by the rules, but they were getting the shit done. So on February 8th, 1939, Francis appeared before the House Judiciary Committee when articles of impeachment were filed against her, Francis. So she got, she literally had an impeachment inquiry. This is from David Brooks again, quote.
Starting point is 00:40:48 She appeared before the House Judiciary Committee as it considered articles of impeachment against her. She delivered a long and detailed recitation of the administrative procedures initiated against bridges, the reasons for them and their legal constraints preventing further action. The questions range from the skeptical to the brutal. When opponents made vicious charges against her, she asked them to repeat their question, believing that no person can be scurrilous twice.
Starting point is 00:41:11 The photographs of the hearing made her look haggard and exhausted, but she impressed the committee with her detailed knowledge of the case, unquote. So she was able to survive the impeachment hearing, but it hung over her reputation for the rest of her life. Francis wanted to resign and in fact twice over the next several years, she sent FDR letters of resignation. At one point, the president wrote back, quote, Francis, you can't go now. You mustn't put this on me now.
Starting point is 00:41:37 I can't think of anybody else. I can't get used to anyone else. Not now. Do stay there and don't say anything. You're all right, unquote. You're all right. Fuck no. Just take it forever.
Starting point is 00:41:49 It'll be fine. God damn it, FDR. If you wanted her to stick around, maybe you should have stuck up for you. He's very problematic. Yeah. FDR is, is frustrating. He's the best we had, but he was still fucking problematic. Yeah.
Starting point is 00:42:02 Yeah. Lots of good things about FDR. However, not necessarily, you know, the most loyal friend. So he, he expected, you know, more her to stick around for him, but not the other way around, which sucked. But once again, she really did feel this sense of duty. So she worked behind the scenes, doing as best she could, but without the same level of clout and connection she'd previously enjoyed.
Starting point is 00:42:24 But she never shed a tear or made a complaint or felt sorry for herself. I mean, that's just not her style. She just quietly did her best, even if she could never be quite as effective as she was before the impeachment. As World War II broke out over Europe, she urged the president to assist European Jews. Good for her. Yeah. She generally stayed on the right side of history for the most part.
Starting point is 00:42:46 It took FDR's death in 1945 to finally and mercifully be released from service, though Truman asked Francis to serve on the civil service commission. So she kind of hopped to a different job. Her most noted stance as commissioner was to speak out against officials hiring only physically attractive female employees. So literally these guys are like only wanting sec, secretaries and stenographers who are hot. And yeah, that's not how this is supposed to work.
Starting point is 00:43:13 And this was the point she decided to write a book and she had a golden opportunity where she could have defended herself in her reputation by writing an autobiography. But instead she wrote the Roosevelt I knew, the biography of FDR I just mentioned a little bit earlier. And then once again, still regarded as a real, like if you're FDR scholars and people who are just interested, still recommended to read because she had a very kind of real understanding of his psychology from the standpoint of somebody who worked with him closely. So it was in 1952 when Francis decided to leave her life of public service after her
Starting point is 00:43:50 husband Paul Wilson died at the age of 75. Few years later, she took a position as a lecturer at New York State School of Industrial Labor Relations at Cornell University, which she would hold for the rest of her life because she required a salary to continue to pay for her daughter's care. It actually sounds as though she truly enjoyed her time at Cornell. According to Brooks, quote, at first she lived in residential hotels during her time in Ithaca, but she was then invited to live in a small bedroom at Telleride House, a sort of fraternity house for some of Cornell's most gifted students.
Starting point is 00:44:23 She was delighted by the invitation. I feel like a bride on her wedding night, she told friends. While there she drank bourbon with the boys and tolerated their music at all hours. She attended the Monday House meetings, though she rarely spoke. She gave them copies of Baltic celebrations, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, a 17th century guidebook by a Spanish Jesuit priest on how to retain one's integrity while navigating the halls of power. She became close friends with Alan Bloom, a young professor who would go on to achieve
Starting point is 00:44:51 fame as the author of The Closing of the American Mind. Some of the boys had trouble understanding how this small, charming, and unassuming old lady could have played such an important historical role. Americans biographer Kirsten Downey is quoted as saying the time in Telleride House as probably the happiest phase of her life. So here she is right at the end having the best time because she has a lot less responsibility. She's just a teacher now basically. She's giving these lectures.
Starting point is 00:45:16 She has a really light job compared to what she was doing before. There's a lot of light. Now she's just importing her wisdom on the younger generation all while drinking and hanging out with a bunch of college age dudes at night and just having a blast. So there's like partying with this little old lady who literally created an important chunk of America as they knew it. I bet it would be fun to be one of those dudes. Yeah.
Starting point is 00:45:40 I mean it's like hanging out and again it was they were gifted students so they were all intelligent. Yeah. I mean as long as you were up for a like an intellectual conversation I bet she would have been a blast to just like drink whiskey and talk bullshit with and I mean bullshit it would be like you know history and politics and you know philosophy and religious thinking I mean she was she had a lot of stuff to say and a lot of strong opinions. Francis never traveled by airplane always taking a bus or train to her destination and
Starting point is 00:46:12 later in life always kept a copy of her last will and testament in her purse because she said when she died she wouldn't cause any trouble. She's like yeah when I croak my will will be right there you'll know what to do. On May 15th 1965 the Associated Press released the following quote Francis Perkins first U.S. woman cabinet member whose three-cornered hat became a symbol that an rage New Deal opponents is dead at the age of 83. The colorful controversial secretary of labor under Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1933 to 1945 died Friday night in Midtown Hospital on Manhattan's east side.
Starting point is 00:46:47 She had left her post as lecturer at New York State School of Industrial Relations at Cornell University two weeks ago and was admitted to the hospital for routine examination. She suffered a stroke in the hospital. The vivacious little lady who was known as Madame Perkins was alone when death came. Her daughter and son-in-law had visited her during the day. Unquote. Okay so her daughter required care but she was still able to get married? Yeah I don't really know I didn't I didn't look into as many details as I should have
Starting point is 00:47:14 of her daughter Susanna's later life I do know this Susanna Perkins whatever her married name was she lived to 2003 Okie dokie so I mean so even though she had a very difficult life with mental instability issues I mean she physically you know was healthy enough to live to also be really old lady like her mom so now that we've reached the end of her life it's difficult to sum up everything that she did and all of her accomplishments. She worked her entire adult life for the benefit of the poor the immigrant the worker she sought to limit the abuse against women and children and made sure that old people would have the support and dignity even through retirement into their death there are many memorials
Starting point is 00:47:52 and monuments that bear her name even if the American public is mostly forgotten but I think her legacy is best summed up in her own words quote I have spent most of my adult life in the service of the people of my country working to improve their living and laboring standards I have done what I could in my time to make this country of Oz a little nearer to our conception of the city of God unquote so yeah as one thing she never lost her religious beliefs it's just for her her religious beliefs were true were about service and not just on some little scale but like a big one like we got to make this whole world better for everybody yeah well that's amazing yeah her Christianity actually involves her in the poor and the sick
Starting point is 00:48:36 and the old it's like and the young the very young and that's that there we go that's it that's Francis Perkins yeah I mean yeah no I like her a lot you know it's like it's kind of her own fault that we don't know more about her and then her name isn't celebrated more not to mention that her enemies kind of trashed her toward the end of her the biggest you know I almost like that and you know she had the opportunity to be like I could spill and she was like I don't want to that's the thing she didn't actually like like she would I'm convinced she would think we're wasting our time talking about her right now when we could just be pushing forward that universal health care thing that mattered a lot to her and never got done
Starting point is 00:49:18 yeah but at the same time in order to really move forward you had to look backward a little yeah for sure that's otherwise you do stupid ignorant things like just pushing forward blindly hi but that's it so thank you listeners for checking out Francis Perkins uh next week we're going to be back talking about someone shitty again and I'm not going to let Bambi not going to give Bambi too much of a break this was our palette cleanser we got to get back into our true mission of taking these pieces of shit that some people think are these great men sometimes women but let's face it it's a man that is actually sucked yeah deserves our attention anybody wants to learn more about our show uh and support us can do so through patreon where you'll find all of our show
Starting point is 00:50:03 notes and extra bits bonus episodes and new material and announcements coming soon you can reach that just by going to you want to email us with your questions your suggestions your whatever snider marks you want to send it away you can send to chainsawhistory at and you can follow us at chainsawhistory on twitter instagram and facebook you can follow me personally on twitter and instagram at jamie1km and if you come to my uh twitch page that you can get to from you can go watch me play some old dnd based computer games and uh blow off some steam from having to deal with shitty people in history or shitty people currently meanwhile Bambi is hiding from the internet I I hide from the internet I I almost try to
Starting point is 00:50:52 just hide from people in general but you know occasionally I do get out and about but if you want to pester Bambi you can uh go to our patreon again and I will force her to answer you no if you want to be my patreon friend I will it's because again that's like will establish a personal connection where you won't feel like a total stranger to me and in the next few weeks we're going to be building a discord community that's going to all tie into this stuff so that'll be a place also where Bambi will be forced to hang out and socialize online that that is probably more forced yeah but it will be our people not just like the internet at large yeah be kind to me people of planet earth you can be mean to jamie all you want
Starting point is 00:51:38 yeah be don't be mean to my sister or be mean to jamie uh in honor of frances perkins and her efforts to improve workplace safety once again we're supporting the national safety council which was founded in 1913 to reduce workplace accidents and increase safety standards so visit to learn more and contribute okay well i think that's about wrapping it up i think that's it now i'm hungry for for bread and roses bread and roses i'm telling you you should uh it's a beautiful song i've heard it all right we'll see you next time thanks everybody see ya oh
Starting point is 00:53:00 as we come marching marching we battle to four men for they are in the struggle and together we shall win our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes hearts serve as well as bodies give us bread but give us roses please as we come marching marching unnumbered women dead go crying through our singing their ancient strife for bread small love to love and beauty their trudging spirit's new yes it is bread we fight for but we fight for roses too

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