From the Legislature: Frances Perkins: a local and national treasure

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From the Legislature
Frances Perkins: a local and national treasure
By Senator Chris Johnson
Many in Maine still don’t know
that one of our country’s most
influential historical figures hails
from right here in the Midcoast
region. The ancestral homestead
of Frances Perkins, FDR advisor,
New Deal architect, and first
woman U.S. Secretary of Labor, is
right here in Newcastle.
According to her correspondence,
her oral history, her biography,
and surviving friends, Frances
Perkins’ ethical sense was deeply
rooted in her lifelong ties to the
modest farmstead in Newcastle,
where her family first settled in the
•mid-18th century. The property once
contained an active brick-making
operation where many of the
bricks were used in building area
houses and businesses. Perkins
had deep roots in this place; and,
it was clear the brick house was a
constant in her life and the place
she considered her true home.
This is, unfortunately, one
of Maine’s best kept secrets.
It’s time we change that. The
historically significant Frances
Perkins homestead deserves to be
purchased, preserved, and managed
as an historic site available for the
benefit and education of the public.
To that end, I have sponsored a $2
million bond to acquire the Frances
Perkins homestead and direct a
preservation easement to be held
by Maine Historic Preservation
Commission.
The Frances Perkins Homestead
is on the National Register of
Historic Places and is a National
Historic Landmark. Joining iconic
places like Monticello, Mount
Vernon, and the Empire State
Building, the Perkins Homestead is
now among those recognized as the
most significant privately-owned
historic places in the nation.
The acquisition of the property
is the next step in preserving and
retaining this important historic site
for the enjoyment and education of
the public about Frances Perkins,
including the homestead’s place in
history.
Today, the Perkins Homestead
includes a 57-acre saltwater farm
situated on the waterfront on the
Damariscotta River with the brick
house. Visitors to the site come
away with a strong sense of the
background and character of one of
the most effective public servants
of the 20th century.
Frances Perkins holds a
prominent place in the history of
our nation. As a trusted advisor
to Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
who served as Labor Secretary
throughout all 12 years of. his
presidency, she was the principal
architect behind many New, Deal
policies undertaken to combat the
Great Depression and improve the
lives and working, conditions for
generations of Americans. Policies
including Social Security, the 40-
hour work week, -overtime pay,
minimum wage, unemployment
insurance, a ban on child labor,
workplace safety standards, and am
expansion of public works projects
remain essential to all Americans
today.
One of the catalyzing moments
in Frances Perkins’ adult life was
witnessing the Triangle Shirtwaist
factory fire in New York City, and
the many people who perished
leaping from upper story windows.
Having witnessed this tragedy, she
worked smartly and tirelessly for
building and workplace safety.
As the first female cabinet.
secretary to a U.S. President,
Perkins opened doors for women.
Having to work against great
prejudice and lack of professional
respect for women in a role of
responsibility, she worked doubly
hard to stand up for herself and all.
women following after her, and in
a difficult time for this nation, was
an amazingly effective Secretary of
Labor by any measure.
The publicity and interest of the
Frances Perkins Homestead would
bring mope than bragging rights
about the first woman cabinet
member to a President of the
United States, it would also be good
for the nearby downtowns and area
businesses. The connection with the
land, the river, local industry, and
historic beauty are what the Twin
Villages are known for — making
these plans consistent with the
reasons people visit Damariscotta
and Newcastle, live here, and
operate businesses here.
The future use of the Frances
Perkins homestead as an historical
site open to public visits by school
groups and tourists alike is entirely
in keeping with the character
and charm of the Newcastle and
Damariscotta Twin Villages of the
tidal Damariscotta River.
The bond is now before the
state’s budget writing committee
for consideration. If approved by
the committee and the Legislature,
it will go before the people of Maine
for a vote. hope with this bond,
we can continue to hold Frances
Perkins legacy of social justice and
economic security alive.
(Senator Christopher Johnson,
D-Somerville, represents Senate
District 13, which includes all
Lincoln County towns except
Dresden, along with Windsor in
Kennebec County, and Washington
in Knox County. Senator Johnson
can be reached by phone 949-335}
or email