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Heroes Are Made, Not Born

October 21, 2013

Frances Perkins was the first woman in the presidential line of succession and was FDR’s only Secretary of Labor.  The year after his death she published a memoir where she stated: “This book about Roosevelt is biased in his favor.  I am bound to him by ties of affection, common purpose, and joint undertakings.”

But when FDR was a young state senator from New York, she was not impressed.  She first met him in 1910, and although she overheard him give a spirited defense of his wife’s Uncle Teddy, she was disappointed that the young legislator did not actively support the fifty-four-hour bill for women.  Even corrupt Tim Sullivan, remembering how his sister at age fourteen had to work long hours, said: “I know we ought to help these gals by giving ’em a law which will prevent ’em from being broken down when their still young.”

Although Perkins came to admire the mature FDR, regarding his time as a state senator she wrote that “he really didn’t like people very much… had a youthful lack of humility, a streak of self-righteousness, and a deafness to the hopes, fears, and aspirations which are the common lot.”  Years later, when FDR was President, he turned to his Secretary of Labor and said: “You know, I was an awfully mean cuss when I first went into politics.”

So, what happened that caused him to change between 1910 and 1933?  In August 1921 Roosevelt had become seriously ill with infantile paralysis.  When Perkins saw him during the early 1920s she observed: “He had become conscious of other people, of weak people, of human frailty.”

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