Robert Gibb: Frances Perkins at the Homestead Post Office
Her tricornered hat’s all but trademarked,
Her suits well-cut and suitably dark.
Patrician disguise for our one great
Secretary of Labor, the tireless tony agitator
With her firm, man-the-barricades touch.
In 1933 she’s in Homestead drumming up
Support for the newly established steel
Code and the agencies of the New Deal.
The borough hall’s packed, with hundreds
More locked out— “undesirable reds,”
According to the burgess who refuses
To admit them or permit her the use
Of the stairs in front. Nor is Frick Park’s
Municipal block ordinanced for such talk,
Or so they’re insisting when she sees
The post office and thinking federal property
Simply sets up shop within its haven.
(Clerks and customers, their startled faces,
My Uncle Arch looking up from his desk.)
The cops are fuming, as is the burgess,
But there’s not much they can do now,
Even though theirs is a company town.
How close she came, during her tenure,
To putting paid to such places forever.
Minimum wage, overtime, social security . . .
A storm of progress to the angel of history,
The debris of paradise scattered about
The aggrieved, beseeching crowds.
Copyright 2021 Robert Gibb
Robert Gib’s many books include Sightlines (Press Americana, 2021)
Frances Perkins (1880-1965) was an American workers-rights advocate who served as the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, the longest serving in that position. She made history as the first woman to serve in any presidential U.S. Cabinet. As a loyal supporter of her longtime friend, Franklin D. Roosevelt, she helped make labor issues important in the emerging New Deal coalition. Her most important role came in developing a policy for Social Security in 1935. She also helped form governmental policy for working with labor unions, although the union leaders distrusted her.