39: Francis Perkins

2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the ELCA, the 40th anniversary of women of color, and the 10th anniversary of LGBTQ+ siblings.

It’s an incredibly important marker for the ELCA, though it is only the beginning for the Church, as women are still denied ordination across the denominations and hold less than 15% of the leadership positions in the worldwide church! Therefore, in 2020, we in the Oregon Synod will highlight one woman from Christian history every week. Some you may know, others you may not, but all worthy of our respect and gratitude.

#39 Francis Perkins

Americans owe a great deal to Francis Perkins. As the first woman to hold a US cabinet post—appointed secretary of labor by FDR in 1932—she was instrumental in the crafting of the Social Security and Fair Labor Standards Acts and other key provisions of the New Deal. She successfully advocated for unemployment insurance, safeguards for workers, the regulation of child labor, and higher wages. Many of the labor protections we enjoy today would not have happened without her determination and leadership. She was inspired by her faith and by witnessing the suffering of the working poor. In 1911, she stood helplessly on the sidewalk as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire killed 145 people—mostly young, immigrant women—who were locked inside. A devout Episcopalian and regular church-goer, she took one day off every month to spend in retreat at a local convent. Though she didn’t speak much of her faith, it is evident in the way she lived her life in service to the most vulnerable. In 2009, the Episcopal Church established May 13 as a feast day commemorating her as a Public Servant and Prophetic Witness.