1913 - Frances Perkins Tells of Legislative Work
As we wander through the archives of Chronicling America in search of news articles of Miss Frances Perkins, we find the following headline: Picturesque Woman Will Tell of Legislative Work, that appeared in The Washington Herald, Monday, 14 April 1913, page 5. Miss Frances Perkins was an interesting figure among those who sought to secure a better condition for women in shop and Factory work forces.
On this Monday, 14 April 1913, Miss Frances Perkins addressed the second annual meeting of the consumers' League at Rauschers in the afternoon. Miss Perkins was described as a picturesque and interesting character among the social workers of the day. It was a year before she gained fame by defeating the opponents of the measure introduced into the New York Legislature limiting the working hours of women to fifty-four a week.
The article goes on to tell how this woman, single-handed, got her bill passed in the last few minutes of the session. Her story was told by Le Roy Scott in a magazine article the summer before.
The Washington Herald reported, "For two sessions Frances Perkins haunted the capitol at Albany in the interests of the McManus bill, limiting the working hours of all females and all males under eighteen employed in factories to fifty-four a week. Her two special friends in the legislature were 'the' McManus, "devil's deputy from Hell's Kitchen" -- or so considered by most reformers -- and 'Big Tim' Sullivan, King of the Bowery. These two politicians, looked at askance by more "respectable" legislators, proved staunch friends to the working girl."
As the session drew to a close, the enemies of the bill threw every kind of a barrier in its way. They knew the indomitable young secretory of the New York Consumers' league had 26 friends in the Senate, which was just enough to pass it. They tried lengthly amendments, but friends of the bill voted them down. Senator Allen of Troy made an impassioned speech in behalf of the machine and the factory. He told what a fine sight the Troy factories were, and how easy and pleasant the work in them.
Miss Perkins, who was standing behind the rail, was bursting to tell in response how low the wages were in those beautiful factories; how, because of the low wages, Troy had become a "woman's town."
But Miss Perkins did not need to, for a friend of the measure was there who was empowered to speak. Big Tim Sullivan rose to his feet, looking particularly innocent. He said, "Mr. President, I wish to indorse everything my honored friend, the Senator from Troy, has just said. I've seen the shirt factories of Troy, and I want to tell you all that they sure are a fine sight. And I want to tell you that it's a fine sight, too, to see the women and girls working in those bright, airy places the Senator has so eloquently described. But I also want to tell you that it's a far finer sight at noontime to see the fine, big, upstanding men fetching around the women's dinner pails."
It was a home thrust; the Senate reared, the opposition collapsed, andy eh bill passed by a wide margin.
Another victory was won when upon an occasion of the consideration Miss Perkins saw defeat staring her in the face. There was only one thing to be done. She seized Senator McManus's arm.
As the story goes, Miss Perkins moved to reconsider, as she flew for the telephone to call the two Sullivans who had departed in the belief that they were not needed, at the same time Perkins dispatched a page to rush a taxi to the dock.
As the newspaper tells it, "By a miracle she got in connection with them before the boat left. They came running back into the Senate chamber in time to be recorded in the affirmative. Three minutes before the session closed the long fight was won, and Frances Perkins was not the only person in the room whose taut nerves were relieved by tears. The Senators crowded around to congratulate her."
Big Tim, friend of the the working woman, cried, "Miss Perkins, if I wasn't already in favor of woman suffrage, the job you've done here would have won me over -- sure!"
It was on this Monday, 14 April 1913, that Miss Frances Perkins would talk in the afternoon on the general aspects of legislative protection for working women. The meeting would be at 4:45p.m., admission was free.
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