The highlight of the LATFOB for me this year was the first event I attended, the panel on Biographies of 20th century lives. I’m actually not much of a biography reader. I’ve had too many experiences of being 400 pages into a book, the subject is only 30 years old, and I realize I know more about the subject’s early life than want to know about my own. This panel opened my eyes.
The panel consisted of three authors, Cari Beauchamp, Kirstin Downey, and Linda Gordon. I was fascinated by two different Depression era women, Frances Perkins and Dorothea Lange, who had an enormous impact on our democracy. (Cari Beauchamp was hilarious, I’ve quoted her numerous times since the panel, and her book on Joseph Kennedy in Hollywood looked interesting, but I’m not the one to write about another Hollywood book.)
- Before listening to Kirstin Downey, I hadn’t heard of Frances Perkins, now she is my new hero. Downey was a writer for The Washington Post and noticed that the Frances on the Frances Perkins Labor Building was spelled with an “e,” indicating a woman. Frances Perkins was Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor and the force behind much of the New Deal.
- Perkins met FDR in 1910 when he was a state politician and she was an activist for working conditions even before the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. By the time FDR won the presidential election, he and Perkins were close friends for over 20 years. She agreed to join him in DC as Secretary of Labor if he would work toward unemployment insurance, the minimum wage, Social Security and universal health care. With Frances Perkins the first three became a reality, and without her, the fourth needed another seventy years.
- Frances was the largest single promoter of the ‘get to work’ programs, including the WPA that funded Dorothea Lange’s work. In his first presidential race, FDR ran under a balanced budget plank and Read the rest of this entry »