Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

On July 28, 1933, U. S. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins (1882–1965), the first female presidential cabinet member in American history, visited the Homestead, Allegheny County, plant of the Carnegie Steel Company, where the minimum wage was forty cents an hour. Steel executives, determined to keep wages low, prevent unionization, and suppress free speech encouraging labor organization, were dismayed by her visit. Perkins listened to the grievances of workers, grilled steel industry leaders, and talked with workers’ wives. She met workers at Homestead’s borough building that evening so they could speak freely and air complaints. The building was too small to accommodate the crowd and John Cavanaugh, Homestead’s burgess, ordered police to bar individuals arbitrarily considered radical, communist, or “red”.

Perkins attempted to speak from the outside steps to those prohibited from attending the meeting, but police advised her it was not permissible. Moving to a nearby public park, police again stopped her because she did not have a permit. Perkins finally moved the crowd to a nearby post office, asserting that the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution applied to federal property. Perkins’s appearance signaled to workers that the federal government would be their ally in the struggle to associate, organize, and participate in the decisions made in their workplaces and communities.

As a student at Mount Holyoke College, from which she graduated in 1905, Perkins helped establish a chapter of the National Consumer’s League, dedicated to the abolition of sweatshops and child labor. For her master’s thesis at Columbia University, she ventured into Manhattan’s infamous, crime-plagued Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood to write about child malnutrition. Following the tragic 1911 fire at New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Company that killed 146 people, mostly young women, she used her influence as executive secretary of the New York Consumers’ League to fight for fire safety.

A self-described deeply religious, conservative Republican, Perkins believed that pragmatism in solving economic problems worked better than idealistic socialism. Her various lobbying efforts gained the attention of Democrats Alfred E. Smith and Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1919, Governor Smith appointed her as the first female member and chairman of the Industrial Commission of New York. She continued with the commission when FDR succeeded Smith as governor.

Despite objections by labor leaders, Perkins proved to be a forceful and influential labor secretary, expanding her department and implementing FDR’s New Deal benefits and protections for workers. After a record twelve years as FDR’s labor secretary, she served on the U. S. Civil Service Commission under President Harry S. Truman.

Upon her death at the age of eighty-three, Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz memorialized Perkins by saying, “Every man and woman in America who works at a living wage, under safe conditions, or who is protected by unemployment insurance or social security is her debtor.”

On October 4, 2003, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission dedicated a state historical marker recognizing the importance of Frances Perkins’s 1933 visit at the corner of Ninth and Amity Streets in Homestead.