The Frances Perkins Center in Newcastle/Damariscotta Maine

Memories of Maine
About This Project

by Christopher N. Breiseth, Chair, Board of Directors
The Frances Perkins Center in
Newcastle and Damariscotta, Maine,
was incorporated in 2009 to make
known the exemplary work and career of
one of the great daughters of Maine, and
to make her legacy relevant to present
sü-ugg)es for social justice and economic
security of the American people.
Adam Cohen in his introduction
to the recently reprinted edition of
Frances Perkins’s book, The Roosevelt
I Knew, declares that “If American
history textbooks accurately reflected
the past, Frances Perkins would be
recognized as one of the nation’s greatest
heroes—as iconic as Benjamin Franklin
or Thomas Paine. Like Franklin,
Perkins was a brilliant self-creation:
There had not been anyone like her
before and there has not been anyone
like her since. Like Paine, Perkins
helped start a revolution.” Lawrence
O’Donnell on his MSNBC program,
The Last Word, recently presented two
segments on Frances Perkins describing
her as perhaps the most consequential
presidential cabinet member in history
in her role as the main architect of the
New Deal. When Mayor Bill de Blasio
of New York City was inaugurated this
year on New Year’s Day, he highlighted
Perkins’ role in FDR’s Cabinet in
Frances Perkins. Photo courtesy Frances
Perkins Center.
establishing unemployment insurance
and the minimum wage, both programs
which are on the front burner of present
political debate. None of this recent
recognition of Perkins’ importance
rested on the fact that she was the first
female cabinet member in U.S. history,
although that fact is of significance in
understanding her contribution to the
cracking of the political glass ceiling
for women in America. Rather, these
contemporary assessments recognize
the extraordinary persistence and
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August 12
August 14
Breckinridge Long: American Eichmann – book signing and discussion of
Frances Perkins’ role in helping Jewish immigrants during World War II by
author and historian Neil Rolde
Frances Perkins’ Birthday
Presentation before the Senior College at USM Lewiston-Auburn
Frances Perkins Feast Day — Christopher Breiseth speaking at the Parish of
St. Monica and St. James
Perkins Homestead Tour and Open House
Perkins Homestead Tour and Open House
“Celebrating Frances Perkins” Gates Auditorium, College of the Atlantic,
Bar Harbor, Maine
Sixth Annual Garden Party and Award Ceremony, Newcastle, Maine
September 14 Perkins Homestead Tour and Open House
productivity of Frances Perkins’ public
career in the promotion of social justic
and economic security.
Her political career began in earnes
in 1911 in the wake of the Triangle
Shirtwaist Fire in New York, lasted
through the New York governorships
of Alfred E. Smith and Franklin D.
Roosevelt, and reached its culmination
in the administration of President
Roosevelt where she was one of only
three individuals to serve FDR during
the entire twelve years of his presidenc
Kirstin Downey’s acclaimed biography
The Wmmn Behind the New Deal: The
Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins—Soci
Security, Unemployment Insurance, and
the Minimum Wage, begins her book
with an account of the meeting betwec
Miss Perkins and the President-elect
in February of 1933 when she spelled
out the conditions for her accepting
offer to be his Secretary of Labor. The
conditions constituted an outline for
what became known as the New Deal.
Roosevelt agreed to all her stipulation±
and together they accomplished every
one except a national health insurance
system, which both Roosevelt and
Perkins reluctantly dropped from the
Christopher N. Breiseth, PhD,
Ticonderoga, NY
Hon. Leah W. Sprague, Newcastle, ME
Sarah M. Peskin, Walpole, ME
Kirstin Downey, Washington, DC
Susan Feiner, PhD, Yarmouth, ME
Rev. Charles Hoffacker, Washington, DC
Gretel Porter, Walpole, ME
Neil Rolde, York, ME
Margaret R. Rotundo, Lewiston, ME
Charles M. Wyzanski, Cambridge, MA

Frances Perkins testifying before Congress in
1942. O Bettmann/CORB/S
Social Security Act in 1935 because of
the adamant opposition of the American
Medical Association which put the
whole bill in jeopardy.
While Fannie Coralie Perkins was
born in Boston in 1880 and grew up
in Worcester, Massachusetts, she was
fundamentally a product of Maine
where her Perkins family had lived
in Newcastle since the 1750’s. By her
own acknowledgment, no one was
more influential in helping Fannie to
define herself than her grandmother,
Cynthia ()üs Perkins, a descendent
of the Founders of the American
republic and a resident of the Newcastle
property. Cynthia apprized Fannie of
the OBs familyS role in the colonists’
fight for independence. Perkins took
the name Frances during her first job
after graduating from Mount Holyoke
College. She had spent summers in
Newcastle as a youth and thereafter
during almost every vacation period she
could rescue from her extraordinarily
busy life. She was at what we now
call the Perkins Homestead when the
Germans invaded Poland in September
of 1939, and rushed from Newcastle
to the 1%ite House to join the other
members of President Roosevelt’s
Cabinet to begin to deal with the
beginning for Americans of World War
II. Perkins inherited the property in
1927. After her death in 1965 she was
buried in the Newcastle cemetery next
to her husband, Paul Wilson, and near
her Perkins ancestors. Her daughter,
Susanna Wilson Coggeshall, inherited
the property from Frances and in
turn left it to her only child, Tomlin
As Tomlin contemplated the long
term fate of the property, including
the 57 acre homestead with its 1837
brick house (the Perkinses were brick
makers on this property for much of
the nineteenth century), all remarkably
preserved as it was during her lifetime,
he and his husband, Christopher Rice,
came up with the idea of establishing a
Frances Perkins Center. In the Foreward
to the book, A Promise to all Generations:
Stories and Essays about Social Security and
Frances Perkins, published by the Frances
Perkins Center, Tomlin Coggeshall
explains that the Center is devoted to
“actively contributing to and affecting
the debate over the safety net she helped
create; supporting and sffengthening
Social Security is a top priority. My
grandmother considered [the Social
Security] program her most significant
accomplishment. ”
Developed by a group of local
Maine residents under the protective
nurturance of Maine Initiaüves,
the Frances Perkins Center was
incorporated as a 501 0 3 not-for-profit
corporation in 2009, and has grown
in both program and purpose. The
emerging mission is twofold: first, to
163 Jefferson Street, Waldoboro, ME
M-F 8-5 • Sat. 8-4 • Sun.
Frances Perkins as a young woman, circa
1895. Photo courtesy Frances Perkins Center.
help fulfill the legacy of Frances Perkins
by continuing her work for social
and economic security and second, to
help preserve for future generations her
nationally significant family homestead
in Newcastle. In both of these goals,
the Center is committed to overcome
the persistent obscurity of Miss Perkins’
pivotal role in American history.
Through programs that promote
serious debate over contemporary
issues, looked at in relaüon to Miss
Perkins’s work and legacy, the Frances
Perkins Center has a significant public
educational role. Giving three major
awards each year to individuals who
X orth, LLC

exemplify qualities they share with
Frances Perkins, the Center has brought
to Newcastle, and Portland, leaders from
Maine and the nation for recognition.
The awards have traditionally been
made at a Garden Party at the Perkins
Homestead in August, with occasional
presentations in Portland. Through
our Social Security Stories project, in
conjunction with the AARP, the Center
has been recording personal stories
of individual beneficiaries of Social
Security which are shared with the press
and public officials as examples of how
crucial Social Security is for millions
of Americans as illustrated by these
personal examples. These stories are also
available on the Center’s website.
The Center’s office in downtown
The Intelligence and Courage Award
comes from a speech given by Frances
Perkins in 1929 when she was New York
State Industrial Commissioner, in which
she pledged, “I promise to use what brains
I have to meet problems with intelligence
and courage. I promise that I will be
candid about what I know. I promise to
all of you who have the right to know,
the whole ü-uth so far as I can speak it.”
The Steadfast Award gets its name from
the motto of Frances Perkins’ Mount
Holyoke class of 1902, “Be ye steadfast.”
The Open Door Award is named after
the advice given to Frances Perkins by her
grandmother, that when a door opens to
you, you must walk through it.
Ai-jen Poo — Intelligence and Courage
Sally Greenberg — Steadfast Award
Lynn Pasquerella — Open Door Award
Franklin D. Roosevelt Ill — Intelligence
and Courage Award
Dale McCormick — Steadfast Award
Kathryn Edwards — Open Door Award
Ellen Bravo — Intelligence and Courage
Peter Crockett — Steadfast Award
Hilary Doe — Open Door Award
Brooksley Born — Intelligence and
Courage Award
Nancy Altman — Steadfast Award
Megan Williams — Open Door Award
Frances Perkins spent every summer of her
childhood at the family farm in Newcastle,
and the property served as a retreat from her
busy duties throughout her career in New
York and Washington and until her death in
1965. Here she is pictured with the family dog
Balto. Photo courtesy Frances Perkins Center.
Damariscotta has an extensive exhibit
on Frances Perkins’ life and career.
The office is open regularly during the
summer months and by arrangement
during the remainder of the year.
There are also tours of the property
during the summer, for which visitors
must sign up in advance. Last year’s
tours were all filled during pre-
registration. The Center’s website, has
information on hours when the office
is open as well as on forthcoming
The Center has recently named
Michael P. Chaney its new Executive
Director. Michael most recently
served as the Executive Director of
the Yarmouth Historical Society in
Yarmouth, Maine. Before that Michael
was President and CEO of the New
Hampshire Political Library, devoted
to the preservation of materials related
to New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation
presidential primary. A Maine native,
Chaney earned a B.A. in history at
the University of Maine in 1979 and
an M.A. in history and a Certificate
in Public History and Archival
Management from the University of
Connecticut in 1985.
Preserving the Perkins Homestead
is integral to our educational mission.
A nationally significant property, it
has been recommended as a National
Historic Landmark by the National
Park Service and is expected to be so
designated in 2014. It was listed in the
National Register of Historic Places
thanks to a nomination prepared
by Christi Mitchell of the Maine
State Historic Preservation Office
as a saltwater farm notable for its
architecture, archeological sites and
agricultural landscape in addition to its
role as the place Frances Perkins called
home. The Center seeks to acquire and
preserve the homestead as a place where
Frances Perkins’ legacy can come alive.
A fundraising campaign will be launched
soon for this purpose. As the future
home of the Frances Perkins Center,
the property will be maintained much
as it appears today—little changed from
1965 as Miss Perkins knew it—with
possibly some modifications to the barn
and sheds to accommodate Center
programs throughout all seasons. In
supporting the application for National
Historic Landmark status, Stephen
Bromage, Executive Director of the
Maine Historical Society, explained
that Frances Perkins “was the primary
architect of perhaps the most important
and defining legislative package of
the twentieth century—the effort to
establish a comprehensive social safety
net for the American people. That
broad-based legislation expressed a clear
set of social values and responsibilities
that endure, both legislatively and as
a defining element of the relationship
between U.S. citizens and their
government. Debate over these values,
in fact, remains at the center of political
discourse today.”
Balancing the Center’s Maine story
with the national story of Frances
Perkins is one of our central challenges
and opportunities. I personally live in
Ticonderoga, New York, and was drawn
to the Center by my relationship with
Miss Perkins at Cornell University

Each summer, the Frances Perkins Center celebrates the life and
accomplishments of Perkins in the gardens of the Brick House, the Perkins
The Brick House was built in 1837 as a wedding gift to Frances
Perkins’ grandparents, built of bricks from the family brickyard on
the Damariscotta River. The 57-acre property is on the National
Register of Historic Places and has been nominated as a National
Historic Landmark.
Homestead in Newcastle.
where she spent her last ten years
teaching in the School of Industrial and
Labor Relations. We asked her to live
with us at the Telluride House which
she did for her final five years. She and
I put on two seminars for students in
the house, one with Henry A. Wallace,
the other with James A Farley, two of
her close colleagues on FDR’s Cabinet.
In return for her free room and board,
which appealed to her Yankee frugality,
she treated the members of the house
each year to a fresh Maine lobster
dinner. The privilege of this association
with one of the giants of 20th century
America motivates me today to do what
I can to make known her legacy which
is as timely now as it was during the
1930’s when she and others in President
Roosevelt’s administration struggled
with the human problems stemming
from the Great Depression. [My essay

on these Cornell years, “The Frances
Perkins I Knew,” is available on the
Center’s website.]
When Kirstin Downey and I
edited A Prunise to All Generations
(available through the Frances Perkins
Center or on Amazon), we selected a
quotation from Frances Perkins which

characterized her philosophy—and
which is at the center of the debate today
over the role of government in America:
“The people are what matter
to government, and a government
should aim to give all the people
under its jurisdiction the best
possible life.”

ALERT: Due to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) The Frances Perkins Center and Homestead are Temporarily Closed