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Tag: Frances Perkins

Frances Perkins aided the von Trapp Family Singers

Today’s post comes from Rebecca Brenner, an intern in the History Office at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Gertrude Ely to Frances Perkins, March 12, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

Gertrude Ely to Frances Perkins, March 12, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

In 1938 the von Trapp family singers were in danger.

Baron von Trapp, a heroic Austrian sea captain in World War I, declined a commission to serve in the naval forces of the Third Reich.

His eldest son, Rupert, likewise declined a request to serve as a doctor for the Nazis.

Finally, according to daughter Agathe von Trapp’s memoir, the singing family “refused in unison” an invitation to sing on the Munich radio in honor of Hitler’s birthday.

In 2005, Prologue magazine published an illuminating account of “The Real Story of the von Trapp Family,” which relied on immigration and citizenship records held in the National Archives at Boston.

Documents at the National Archives at College Park—in Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins’s immigration correspondence—build upon this story. These documents suggest that Perkins was instrumental in the immigration case of the von Trapp Family Singers.

Memorandum to the Commissioner of Immigration, March 15, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

Memorandum to the Commissioner of Immigration, March 15, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

In 1933, less than two months after the Nazis seized power in Germany, Perkins became Secretary of Labor. As Secretary, she oversaw the Immigration and Naturalization Service throughout the 1930s. Perkins’s immigration correspondence includes a … [ Read all ]

A Factory Fire and Frances Perkins

Demonstration of protest and mourning for Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 1911, By an unknown photographer, New York City, New York, April 5, 1911; General Records of the Department of Labor; Record Group 174; National Archives.

Demonstration of protest and mourning for Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 1911, By an unknown photographer, New York City, New York, April 5, 1911; General Records of the Department of Labor; Record Group 174; National Archives.

Today marks 100 years since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire—a blaze that lasted 18 minutes and left 146 workers dead.

Among the many in New York City who witnessed the tragedy was Frances Perkins, who would later become FDR’s Secretary of Labor, making her the first woman to serve in a Presidential cabinet.

As Secretary of Labor, Perkins was instrumental in creating and implementing the Social Security Act—but she was also intensely interested in the safety and rights of workers. “I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten, plain common workingmen,” she said.

Perkins had a degree from Mount Holyoke College, where her coursework included touring factories. She later earned a master’s degree in in social economics from Columbia University. She had been working as factory inspector in New York at the time of the fire.

The fire started in a wastebasket on the eighth floor, and the flames jumped up onto the paper patterns that were hanging from the ceiling.

In an oral history, blouse operator Mary Domsky-Adams recalled that “My own machine was located near the locked front … [ Read all ]