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Life Lessons from Frances Perkins

Today–April 1oth–is the birthday of Frances Perkins, the subject of my biography: A Woman Unafraid: The Achievements of Frances Perkins. U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933-1945–the first woman in a president’s cabinet–Perkins was the architect of far-reaching labor reforms and legislation, including Social Security.  Here are some of my favorite Perkins’s comments/observations/life lessons: On being wrong: “If I have been wrong , you may tell me so . . . . I know that all judgment is relative. It may be right today and wrong tomorrow. The only thing that can make it truly right is the desire to have it constantly moving in the right direction.”  On working relationships: “You study the person you are working for; you study them not out of curiosity, but in order to appreciate their mentality, their purpose, the best side of their nature, and their weaknesses, so that you may work with them and accomplish with them and for them the thing which they really desire and hope to accomplish.” On writing: “Articles should be written much as one would teach a class of fourteen year old students:  simple language, logical arrangement, plenty of practical illustrative material and enough spicy comment to make them mildly entertaining. Treat controversial subjects in a noncontroversial spirit and observe benevolent neutrality, although not too strictly. Be absolutely nonpartisan.” On life (in a letter to her Mount Holyoke College classmates): “May we each have work that’s worth doing and vigor to ‘make good.’ May we be wise enough while walking down the path called service to the mountain called achievement to gather the wayside flowers of happiness.”  On late-in-life acclaim: “People are very ready to notice what you did when you are no longer a hazard to them. Funny but very nice!”

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