Did Frances Perkins try to initiate legislation to improve or equalize the wage disparity between men and women?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is not much on record indicating that Perkins sought to initiate legislation addressing the wage disparity between men and women.  Such an issue was not as present in the discourse as it is today.  Its presence was dwarfed by concerns of direct employment of any gender and working conditions when one found work.  There are a host of potential explanations as to why Perkins might not have been able to initiate legislation to address the inequity in pay.  The most prevalent of these would be that as a Cabinet leader, her focus was to follow the line that the President had set.  President Roosevelt's efforts to drive home American recovery, relief, and reform intrinsic to the New Deal did not feature gender bias as part of its mission.  This might have been deliberate, as Roosevelt understood that more could be gained from ensuring that all Americans viewed themselves as a collective entity whose communal struggle and fight could lift the nation out of its economic challenges.  The perception of dividing this focus on the grounds of gender bias might not have fit into such a vision.  This might be one reason why Perkins was unable to initiate legislation in this regard.

Another reason would be that Perkins took a different approach to women's issues in the workplace.  Perkins understood from her work early on as an economic justice advocate that women in the workplace faced a different set of headaches than men did.  For example, Perkins did work with African- American women from the South and women immigrants from Europe to help them develop workplace skills and competencies so they would not be so mistreated or be forced into prostitution.  Perkins continued this focus as labor secretary.  She was able to generate legislation that ensured fairness for women, as employees, through the Fair Labor Standards Act, "which set minimum wages, maximum work hours, and child labor prohibitions. "  Perkins understood that some of her best work for the rights of women and the underprivileged could be accomplished within the umbrella of "economic justice."  She addressed women's issues in this regard. 

Perkins grasped that there were a different set of expectations and judgments placed upon her as being the first women cabinet position holder.  She recognized this challenge could prevent her from needing to do what she had to in accordance to her vision.  It is for this reason that her contributions were focused on providing a sense of empowerment for women in the workplace.  Ensuring that women were seen as contributing working members of society, as opposed to initiating legislation that might risk alienating them further from economic justice, Perkins took the most practical approach that could ensure relief and recovery for American women in the workplace.  Perhaps, it was out of her reach to provide the legislative groundwork for reform of this condition.

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