Frances Perkins and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Labor Reform as a Career

Firefighters putting out the last of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library

A wealthy Bostonian who had come to New York for a Columbia University graduate degree, Frances Perkins (April 10, 1882 - May 14, 1965) was having tea nearby on March 25 when she heard the fire engines. She arrived at the scene of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in time to see workers jumping from the windows above.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire 

This scene motivated Perkins to work for reform in working conditions, especially for women and children. She served on the Committee on Safety of the City of New York as executive secretary, working to improve factory conditions.

Frances Perkins met Franklin D. Roosevelt in this capacity, while he was New York governor, and in 1932, he appointed her as Secretary of Labor, the first woman to be appointed to a cabinet position.

Frances Perkins called the day of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire "the day the New Deal began."