Sunday May 19, 2013
Solo show about Frances Perkins, an extraordinary woman who did groundbreaking work in attempting to improve working conditions in America in the first half of the 20th century. Written by Charlotte Keefe, directed by Bruce McIntosh.
Starting out as young, idealistic "do-gooder", she matured and was directly responsible for the creation of a lot New Deal legislation, including the creation of Social Security. Ms. Keefe has done an excellent job in writing this portrait of a somewhat forgotten woman trailblazer whose professional life was devoted to "fighting the good fight"...
The play presents the story of Frances Perkins’ pioneering journey in politics. She was born in Massachusetts in 1880, only 15 years after The Civil War ended. Although from a New England middle-class family, she became acutely aware of the poverty pervasive among immigrants who worked long hours for little pay in unsafe factories. As a young woman she volunteered at settlement houses and lobbied for many of the labor laws we now take for granted. Her work caught the attention of two New York governors, Al Smith, who appointed her to the Industrial Commission, and later Franklin Roosevelt, who made her head of the New York Labor Department. When Roosevelt became president, he appointed her as Secretary of Labor, the first woman in the history of the United States to be appointed to the Presidential Cabinet. In this position she became an architect of the New Deal programs. We can thank Frances Perkins for maximum work hours and minimum wage laws, the abolishment of child labor, and the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively. Because of her persistence and leadership, the Social Security Act was signed into law in 1935. At the time of her death, Secretary of Labor William Wirtz said,
“Every man and woman who works for a living wage, under safe conditions, for reasonable hours, or is protected by unemployment compensation of Social Security, is her debtor.”
Charlotte Keefe, Texas native and Taos resident, is a retired professor of Special Education and has acted in community theatre for over 30 years. However, If A Door Opens, is the first theatre piece she has written. She hadn’t given any thought to writing a one-person performance piece, so she was rather surprised when she was overcome by the idea after hearing only a few minutes of an enthusiastic book review of The Woman Behind the New Deal by Kristin Downey.
She researched Perkins for months and then began focusing on the stories she felt not only highlighted Frances' accomplishments, but also would give insight into the character, wit, and compassion of woman who learned to skillfully negotiate with labor leaders and politicians as a trailblazer in the "men's club" of 20th century politics. Her career spanned four of the most tumultuous decades in American history, beginning in the 'teens and finishing in the early 1950's.