Perkins Center’s ‘Women And The Spirit Of The New Deal’ Conference shines light on unsung heroes

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The Frances Perkins Center held a groundbreaking conference honoring the women behind the New Deal in Berkeley, California in October.

“Women were some of the driving forces behind the creation, execution, and success of the New Deal, yet their accomplishments are too often forgotten,” said Michael Chaney, executive director of the Perkins Center. “We are committed to honoring and promoting the work done by Frances Perkins and other women in the Roosevelt administration whose contributions deserve to be foremost in our national memory.”

Speakers at the conference included Kirstin Downey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Frances Perkins, Susan Quinn, who authored books on Hallie Flanagan and Eleanor Roosevelt, and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.

At the conference’s opening event the Perkins Center presented Reich with an Intelligence & Courage award. Currently Reich is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. Reich has written 15 books and is co-creator of the award-winning documentary, “Inequality For All” as well as co-creator of the documentary “Saving Capitalism.”

Reich said that when he came in as secretary of Labor, he initially couldn’t find Frances Perkins’ portrait in the department’s headquarters. Eventually, his staff found the painting of her in a closet.

She had been put there by his predecessors, Reich said. “Frances had spent over 12 years in a dark closet, and I liberated her.”

Not only did Reich move Perkins’ portrait out of the closet, but he installed it directly behind his desk in his office–a reminder, he said, of America’s greatest Secretary of Labor.