December 17, 2013
The Frances Perkins Center has nominated the Perkins Homestead in Newcastle as a National Historic Landmark. Board member Sarah Peskin was scheduled to present the nomination to the Landmarks Committee of the National Park System Advisory Board December 17 in Washington, D.C., following which a recommendation will be made to the Secretary of the Interior.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 2009, the Perkins Homestead is nationally significant as the ancestral home of Frances Perkins, U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933-45 and first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet. Visitors to the 57-acre homestead and its Brick House, built in 1837, come away with a strong sense of the background and character of one of the most effective public servants of the 20th century. Perkins preserved the home and its landscape features with few alterations.
The house was built of bricks manufactured on site in the family-owned brickyard. The homestead also includes woodlands and open fields bounded by an extensive system of stone walls, along with foundations and archeological evidence of two prior family residences including an 18th century garrison overlooking the Damariscotta River.
Perkins was the driving force behind many of the New Deal policies undertaken to combat the Great Depression and improve the lives and working conditions for generations of Americans. Among her many accomplishments in a long and productive career were policies and regulatory changes establishing Social Security, standardizing the forty-hour work week, banning child labor and developing the nation’s unemployment insurance and worker compensation systems.
In supporting the Center’s nomination, Earle G. Shettleworth Jr., Director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, said “Occupied for over 260 years by members of the Perkins family, this salt-water farm is significant for its architecture, its archaeological sites, and its agricultural landscape. But more importantly, it was the property that Frances Perkins, first female member of a President’s cabinet, considered her life-long home …. It is hard to overstate Ms. Perkins,’” impact on the trajectory of our nation’s development in the twentieth century. Our nation would be a much different place without this woman’s civil service.”
Perkins biographer Kirsten Downey noted, “The Brick House was not just a refuge. It played a key role in shaping Frances Perkins’s substantive policies. Her undying belief in America’s greatness and goodness were rooted in her concept of what makes America unique — and these views were formed at and by that home in Maine.”
The Frances Perkins Center is a nonprofit whose mission is to fulfill the legacy of Frances Perkins by continuing her work for social justice and economic security and preserving for future generations her nationally significant family homestead.