Frances Perkins and Franklin Roosevelt
Roosevelt, as New York’s governor at the outset of the Depression, had offered tax relief to the state’s farmers, created America’s first state relief agency, and provided low-cost utilities. His bold initiatives gained him both national prominence and the 1932 Democratic presidential nomination. At the Democratic National Convention, Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” and in November he was elected to the first of four terms. His first hundred days were marked by significant reforms that brought the American people quick relief and were followed by additional initiatives that helped restore much of the economy while dramatically changing the nature of American government.
Among these measures was the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 (NIRA), which allowed the president to regulate fair wages. NIRA also created the National Recovery Administration (NRA), designed to bring together industry leaders to implement industry-wide practices such as reducing overproduction and establish fair wages. The NRA, though less effective than hoped for, galvanized workers to join labor unions, specifically the United Textile Workers of America (UTW). By the summer of 1934, the White House and Department of Labor had been flooded with thousands of complains against the NRA. At the same time, the UTW began mobilizing its members to strike. Workers started to walk out of factories as early as July 1934, and the UTW called for a general strike on Labor Day, September 3. Textile workers from Maine to Georgia formed picket lines and harassed strike breakers. Cotton mill workers in the South protested in the tens of thousands and at its highest point, roughly 400,000 workers, nearly the entire textile labor force, went on strike for 22 days.
Special deputies were sworn in to maintain order, but picketers were killed in Georgia, South Carolina, and Rhode Island, where thousands of strikers fought troops for more than a day leading to many casualties and deaths. Some states declared martial law and called in National Reserve troops to round up the strikers.
Two days after the Labor Day protests and the national strike’s official start, President Roosevelt ordered a Board of Inquiry for the Cotton and Textile Industry. Our 38-page report, drafted less than two weeks later, reported its findings by detailing the number of firms involved in textile manufacture, the extent of the labor force, the supply and related market demand, working conditions, and the “stretch-out” system devised by the mills to squeeze more work out of its employees. It also details the NRA’s successes and shortcomings, specifically the absence of a mechanism to enforce implementation. Among other things, the board recommended implementation of collective bargaining and a process for handling complaints. The report concluded, “We therefore earnestly hope that the United Textile Workers will call off the strike on the basis of these recommendations. At the same time we request the employers in the industry to take back the workers now on strike without discrimination.” Roosevelt publicly supported the findings and urged workers to return to their jobs, which they did, in part, because they needed their wages. Though the UTW declared victory, the board’s recommendations were largely unimplemented and labor relations continued to fester with violent strikes breaking out, again, the following year.
At the time of his role as head of the Board of Inquiry, Winant was the Republican governor of New Hampshire. His involvement in the strike of textile workers in Manchester, New Hampshire, prompted Roosevelt, a Democrat, to tap him to lead the inquiry. Winant’s work led to a series of appointments in the Roosevelt administration including the first chairmanship of the Social Security Administration and, in 1941, as Joseph P. Kennedy’s successor as U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. Arriving during the Blitz, Winant immediately established close relationships with Winston Churchill and King George VI, remaining in his post throughout World War II. Winant committed suicide in 1947, thought to be distraught over an unhappy marriage, diminishing career opportunities and his recently terminated affair with Winston Churchill’s daughter, Sarah.
Roosevelt appointed Perkins, a sociologist and longtime labor activist, as Secretary of Labor at the beginning of his term, making her the first female cabinet member in American history. She remained an influential member of the president’s cabinet throughout his presidency, one of only two cabinet members to do so, and was called “the woman behind the New Deal.” Among her many important accomplishments were the implementation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration, the Social Security Act, the Fair Standards Act, which established the minimum wage, and the NIRA. She continued to serve in the Truman administration and later taught at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations until her death in 1965. For her lasting impact on American labor relations she was the recipient of numerous honors including a feast day in the Episcopal calendar.
Signed on the report’s title page and post bound in a brown cloth binder with a typed title affixed to the front cover. In very good condition and housed in a custom clam-shell of beige cloth with black and gilt titles on the front. Provenance: From the collection of Roosevelt collector Donald S. Carmichael, whose bookplate is affixed to the box’s interior.