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Frances Perkins (1880-1965) achieved prominence as the first woman ever to serve in a presidential cabinet. She was appointed United States Secretary of Labor by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. In addition to being the first woman, she is also the longest serving in that position (1933-1945).

Perkins is also known for her accomplishments with pro-worker policy. She was heavily involved with many issues associated with the social safety net including, the creation of Social Security, unemployment insurance in the United States, the federal minimum wage, and federal laws regulating child labor. As secretary of labor, Perkins consistently supported the rights of workers to organize unions of their own choosing and to pressure employers through economic action.

One of the pivotal experiences of her political life occurred in 1911, when she watched helplessly as 146 workers, most of them young women, died in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. Many, she remembered, clasped their hands in prayer before leaping to their deaths from the upper-floor windows of a tenement building that lacked fire escapes. It was, as Perkins later explained, “seared on my mind as well as my heart — a never-to-be-forgotten reminder of why I had to spend my life fighting conditions that could permit such a tragedy.”