Frances Perkins, Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor for twelve years during the New Deal, was the first woman Cabinet officer in this country’s history. She was well qualified for the job. After graduating from Mt. Holyoke College in 1902, she worked first as a social worker and later in increasingly important jobs among reform groups who iuere fighting for humane and safe working conditions for factory employees.
For his biography, Madame Secretary: Frances Perkins, from which the following excerpt is taken, George Martin has drawn (among many other sources) on interviews recorded for Columbia University’s Oral History Project to get the personal recollections of people who were Frances Perkins’ friends, associates, and adversaries. The book will be published by Houghton Mifflin later this month.
When our story begins, Miss Perkins is 28 years old and is executive secretary of the Consumers’ League of New York. In that role she is about to learn the wily art of lobbying.
In January, 1911, Frances Perkins’ political education entered a new phase when she went to Albany to lobby for legislation that the Consumers’ League wanted. Its chief interest that year was the “fifty-four-hour bill” limiting the hours for which women of any age and boys under eighteen could be employed in a factory. There briefly had been such a law, but in 1909 the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, had declared it unconstitutional on technical grounds. Florence Kelley, the national secretary of the Consumers’ League, had had the law redrafted to meet the court’s objections and hoped to persuade the legislature to pass it in the 1911 session.
The New York legislature always convened on the first Wednesday of January and generally sat through March or April; a longer session was unusual. The two chambers, the senate with fifty-one members and the assembly with a hundred and fifty, met in opposite wings of the capitol, a large Victorian-Gothic pile perched almost at the top of a steep hill and facing down a broad avenue to Albany’s railroad station on the bank of the Hudson.
Despite its claims to grandeur, the building impressed Perkins as dilapidated. As she learned later, it was clean only for the opening day of the session. Thereafter the red carpeting quickly became gray with cigar ash, and there was a great deal of spitting, not always into spittoons. In the assembly the red curtains hung in limp, uneven folds, and the huge chandelier was dull with dust.
Each chamber was shaped like a half-moon. The presiding officer sat on a dais overlooking the clerks in a slight well directly in front of him and facing the legislators sitting in curved and rising tiers of desks. At the top and back of each room was a brass rail marking off an area ten or fifteen feet wide that was known as the lobby. Here the “lobbyists” would stand, recording votes and sending messages to legislators on the floor.
On the corridor connecting the two chambers was a small partitioned area, not very clean, called the Assembly Lunchroom. It had a few tables and a short counter without stools, and sold sandwiches, pie, and coffee. For months, despite hunger pangs, Frances Perkins would not enter it for fear she would seem “too bold” and offend the legislators whose votes she was seeking. They frequently carried the food back to their desks and ate without forks or spoons. The assembly, she wrote later, often presented “an interesting and sometimes revolting spectacle.”
On her first day in Albany a fellow lobbyist, Joseph Hammitt of the Citizens Union, showed her around the capitol. That morning the assembly was not sitting; most of its members were in committee meetings, though a few stood talking in the aisles. One, a fairly young man, was reading at his desk, and she remarked on his studious appearance. Hammitt identified him as Alfred E. Smith, an assemblyman from New York. “That’s what he does,” Hammitt said. “He’s reading the bills introduced last night. When he first came to the assembly, he used to read every bill introduced and send out to the library for the law it amended. He seemed to think he had to know the business of the chamber, and the only way to know it was to read the material as it turned up. Now he’s one of the best-informed men on the floor.”
Perkins was eager to meet Smith, and just then another lobbyist, Robert S. Binkerd of the City Club of New York, joined them. He knew Smith well, and, leaning across the rail, he loudly called “Al!”
Smith looked around, smiled, and came up the aisle. Binkerd introduced Perkins, and she and Smith chatted for a few minutes. As he turned to go he told her pleasantly, “Jackson’s got your bill. It’s still in committee and not moving very fast. Better ask for a hearing.”
Later she learned that Assemblyman Edward D. Jackson, a heavyset railroad man from Buffalo, was not pushing the bill and that if no one requested a hearing, there would be none. She was grateful to Smith for his casual remark. As the winter wore on she discovered that what he told her was invariably true. He was a politician and an orator, but he never spoke dishonestly. He might say little, withholding something she wanted to know, but what he did say was reliable.
Smith’s integrity and position were to be important to her. That winter, for the first time in a generation, Democrats controlled both chambers and the governorship, and Charles F. Murphy, the leader of the party in the state and the head of Tammany Hall in New York City, ordered a revolution in the party’s legislative organization. Instead of promoting two elderly orators to be majority leaders in the senate and assembly, Murphy reached down into his “kindergarten class” and named Robert F. Wagner and Al Smith. Later Wagner would represent New York in the United States Senate, from 1927 to 1949, and Smith would serve four terms as the state’s governor. The two men were both under forty and were friends; though both were Tammany men and took orders from Murphy, they also influenced him. Murphy’s revolution was not simply in men but also in ideas. More than any others, these three brought the Democratic party of New York into the twentieth century.
Perkins quickly came to respect Smith’s power and to admire the way he used it. When she seemed to be getting nowhere with her demand for a hearing, she went to him and complained, “It isn’t moving at all. They’ve killed the bill tor the last two years.”
Smith, a member of Jackson’s committee, said, “The canners want an amendment to let employees in canneries out.”
She agreed that that was the case but insisted that the Consumers’ League and the other organizations supporting the hill could not accept an amendment exempting a large group of women workers.
“I’ll talk to Jackson,” Smith promised. “I think you might get it through.” At the hearings she made a “presentation": she described the bill, the people to whom it would apply, the means of enforcement, and the reasons for it. She quoted authorities on the effects of ten-, eleven-, or twelve-hour days on the health of
women and children. She gave specific examples of long hours in New York factories and supported them with photographs showing the conditions of work and the obvious exhaustion on the women’s faces by the end of the day.
The most searching questions generally were asked by Smith. He seemed genuinely interested and constantly forced her to be specific: Where is that factory? When was the photograph taken? What is that woman’s name? Has she a family? Perkins had prepared carefully and usually could answer. She soon realized that many of the questions he asked were not for his own benefit but to arouse the interest of the other committee members.
In the senate the questioning was less close. The chairman of its Committee on Labor and Industry was Thomas J. MacManus, “The MacManus,” boss of the Hell’s Kitchen district in New York. An old-style Irish ward boss, he was a large, carefully dressed man, with a neatly trimmed beard. In the eyes of most reformers he was irredeemably corrupt. Perkins did not doubt it, but while working on her survey for the Russell Sage Foundation she had had a happy experience with him.
A boy from the district had committed a crime and been caught. He was put in the Tombs to await trial, and his mother and two sisters, whom he supported, began to starve. The head resident at Hartley House, a settlement house in MacManus’ district, sent Perkins to the local office of the Charity Organization Society for help. The society itself seldom gave direct relief but more often made an investigation and then referred the case to the proper charity. In this instance the office made its investigation and then refused to make a referral because the mother drank and one of the children was illegitimate.
Angered by such a pharisaic ruling, Perkins went from the society’s office directly to the Tammany clubhouse. Inside, men were milling about, talking, smoking, and spitting. She asked if she could see MacManus. “Sure, lady, sure, he’ll be glad to see you,” someone said.
MacManus’ office was as full of men, talk, and smoke as the outer room, but he gave her his entire attention. “Go ahead; what’s troubling you?” She said she knew a boy in trouble.
“Well, I’m always glad to help anybody in trouble. Does he live in this district?”
“Do you live in the district?”
“Yes.” She gave her address without identifying it as Hartley House for fear that might throw him off.
“What’s the boy’s name?”
She told him and described the circumstances. Thirty-six hours later the boy was out of prison and back at work. She did not ask how it was done. She was not sure she would have approved if she had known, but ever afterward she felt a certain sympathy for MacManus.
Nevertheless, despite her expert presentation of the bill before MacManus’ committee and every indication that she had enough votes among the senators to pass it, she could not move the committee to report it out.
Meanwhile, partly because of” a fire in the capitol but even more because of” a fight within the Democratic party over the nomination of the United States senator, the session continued into May and seemed likely to go on for another month. In June she had planned to go to Europe with friends, but she wanted to see the bill passed first.
She went again to Smith, pointing out that she had sufficient votes pledged in both the senate and the assembly to pass the bill if only the committee would report it out. “You’re in favor of this bill,” she said. “Can’t you give me some assurance it will be voted on?”
He was silent, and she realized that he was in some way taking her measure. Finally he said: “Now, I’m going to tell you something. You’ll have to be very careful. You mustn’t repeat this. You can go along to Europe with perfect ease of mind. The bill isn’t going to be passed or reported this year.”
“Mr. Smith,” she exclaimed, “how do you know? How can you possibly know that?”
“I had a talk with Murphy. You can never get it out of committee. That’s the truth, and you go do as you please. You won’t do any good staying around here, because it’s not going to be taken up.”
“There’s lots of good Democrats who don’t believe in this kind of thing.”
“Tell me who,” she insisted. “The Democratic party had a kind of resolution in favor of it at the last convention.”
“Yeah, but that don’t mean anything. That was for the front. That sounded good because the Republicans didn’t have any such thing. Your people agitated enough. Some of them got it introduced. The Democrats couldn’t vote against it, and so they voted for it. Do you know who one of the big contributors to the Democratic fund is?”
She shook her head.
“It’s the Huyler Candy Factory. They’re great friends of Mr. Murphy’s, and they live right down there near him. It’s not going to go through yet. You can take that as a tip, but don’t you tell anybody.”
Recognizing that Smith had been extraordinarily frank, she was careful not to betray him. But she could not bring herself to follow his advice. Her friends sailed without her, and she continued to appear in Albany several days each week, talking, urging, asking Why? and Why not? As long as the legislature was in session, there was a chance. But when it finally adjourned on October 6, Smith was proved right; the bill had never reached the floor.
When the New York legislature convened for its new session in January, 1912, Frances Perkins again began her weekly trips to Albany to lobby for the fifty-four-hour bill. As she remarked later with amusement, to others she must have appeared to think the session’s only purpose was to pass that bill. Nevertheless, her intensity contributed to her effectiveness as a lobbyist. She cared deeply that women and children should not work more than fifty-four hours in a week, and her knowledge of the consequences of such a work week was formidable. With eyes burning, she often could transfix an assemblyman or senator until he, too, was ready to cry out that the hours must be limited.
She started again with Smith. This year, as a result of a loss of Democratic seats in the election, he was only the minority leader in the assembly, though the Democrats had retained control of the senate and the governorship.
In the months since the 1911 session of the legislature she had come to know Smith better, though they continued, as they would for life, to address each other as “Miss Perkins” and “Mr. Smith” or by title, “Madam Chairman” and “Governor.” Yet their friendship already was intimate and subtle. She never asked him directly whether he would vote for the fifty-four-hour bill. She knew that he personally was for it, but she also knew that Murphy as head of Tammany was against it and might require Smith to vote against it. He on his side never volunteered how he would vote on the bill, though he was always willing to advise her how to advance it. At times, as in the case of the Huylers’ opposition, he would even reveal what Murphy would have kept secret. But he never promised anything he could not deliver, and for that she liked him very much.
She made use of everything he told her. In the autumn, for help in combating the opposition of the Huyler brothers, she had turned to some of the socially prominent members of her league’s board of directors. Mr. and Mrs. R. Fulton Cutting and Mrs. Benjamin Nicoll began to include the Huylers and their wives in social gatherings at which the bemused guests discovered that their hosts favored the fifty-four-hour bill. To influence the Bloomingdale brothers, who owned a large department store, Perkins talked to their rabbi, Stephen Wise. It was, she was learning, all part of lobbying.
At her first meeting with Smith that winter she said, “I’ve done a lot. I took your hint. I don’t think all the opposition that was going around about this bill will be present now.”
“Perhaps,” he said, adding, “I noticed you stuck around all summer even though I told you to go on to Europe.”
“Well, I thought there might just be a chance.”
“There wasn’t any chance; I told you the truth. But you didn’t lose anything by staying around. You made friends up here because they all knew that you were staying when it was hopeless, that you weren’t going to give up. They know you mean business, so they’ll listen to you more than they used to.”
Her conversations with Wagner, who was still the majority leader in the senate, were never as frank. She admired Wagner, an immigrant who had worked his way through college and law school, and she liked the way he relied on fact rather than rhetoric in his speeches. But he lacked Smith’s charm. He was better-looking, for Smith had a scrawny neck and a beak of a nose, but his language was less vivid, his appearance and expression more austere. For her at least he had none of “that quality which makes you feel that even if he might be wrong, you will go along with him.”
She had been lobbying for almost three months before there was any sign of progress. Then, on March 27, two days before the legislature was scheduled to adjourn, MacManus, the chairman of the senate’s Commit- tee on Labor and Industry, presented the fifty-four-hour bill for debate and final passage. The bill’s opponents, led by Senator Victor M. Alien of Troy, offered three amendments, but its supporters held ranks and voted them down. In the debate Senator Alien insisted that the factories of Troy were bright and airy and that the women preferred working in them to staying at home.
He was answered by “Big Tim” Sullivan, who was, like MacManus, a ward boss in New York. (While MacManus was famous for paying the funeral bills of supporters, Sullivan gave away shoes. He was a man of sentiment, and every year on his mother’s birthday he gave the children in his ward—about two thousand of them—a pair of shoes. Not just any old shoes. The child, by going to the Democratic clubhouse, received a ticket to exchange at a local store for shoes that fit.) Sullivan was also a bit of a poet and very much an actor, and he chose to reply to Alien in an ironic vein: Mr. President, I wish to endorse everything my honored friend, the Senator from Troy, has just said. I’ve seen the shirt factories of Troy, and I want to tell you that it’s a fine sight, too, to see them women and girls working in those bright, airy places the Senator has so eloquently described. But I also want to tell you that it’s a far finer sight at noon-time to see the fine, big, up-standing men fetching around the women’s dinner pails.
Amid the laughter the vote was called, and the bill passed, 32-15. To her delight Perkins saw that both Wagner and James A. Foley, who was Murphy’s son-in-law and unofficial representative in the legislature, voted for it. The fact seemed to substantiate rumors that Murphy had given the bill his approval.
But in the assembly, where the upstate canning and candy industries had concentrated their efforts, the bill had a rougher passage. An amendment to exempt the candy manufacturers for the three months before Christmas had been defeated; but another, exempting canners altogether, had passed on the ground that canning was a seasonal industry that required long hours for a short period in order to avoid spoilage.
The assembly’s Rules Committee, therefore, had two bills: its own amended bill exempting the canners, known as the Jackson bill, and the unamended MacManus bill sent from the senate. All day on Thursday, March 28, Perkins tried to persuade the chairman and members of the Rules Committee to report out the MacManus bill. But in the half hour while she was at dinner, the committee reported out the Jackson bill.
When she complained to Smith, he said, “I’m afraid that was intended.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t tell you any more about it,” he said, “but I am sure that was intended.”
The next day, when the amended bill was put to a vote, it passed the assembly, 104-26, and was sent to the senate.
Perkins considered her problem. The senate was more likely to pass the assembly’s bill than vice versa, because the assembly’s bill would affect fewer industries. For three years, however, the Consumers’ League had proclaimed up and down the length and breadth of the state that it would never accept a bill that exempted the canneries. Now Frances Perkins, feeling the need of guidance, called New York but could not reach Mrs. Kelley. The league’s lawyers and several of its directors insisted that she stand firm: she must try to persuade the assembly to pass the senate’s bill. Pauline Goldmark, the chairman of the league’s committee on legislation, was on her way to Albany to help.
The session had been scheduled to end at noon, but the leaders had stopped the clocks, declaring that they would continue until the work was done. A band from the Catholic Protectory in New York, which had come up to enliven the closing hours with music, instead played in the assembly’s gallery during a short recess while some of the rowdier assemblymen bombarded each other with copies of unpassed bills. Time went by despite the immobilized clocks. Hurrying back to the senate from the assembly, Perkins met one of her senatorial stalwarts by the elevator. He was leaving to catch an evening train.
She talked with MacManus, but he could not help her in the assembly. She appealed to Sullivan, who said: Me girl, I seen you around here and I know you worked hard on this and I know you done your duty and I know it’s very hard for a young lady like you to work away from home. I’ll tell you; it’s the truth. Murphy told them to go ahead and put out the bill, but the idea was that the Assembly would pass a different bill. They say, of course, you can’t accept it—you’re under instructions not to accept it. They don’t mean to put it through. They don’t mean to let you get that law this year because they know you won’t accept the bill that’s over in the Assembly with the canners’ amendment on it. That’s the idea.
It drove her nearly crazy. It was an election year, and the Republicans who controlled the assembly would claim that they had done something for labor; the Democrats in the senate, with an unamended bill, would claim that they had done even more; and everyone would deplore the fact that time had run out before the bills could be reconciled. “That’ll be fine publicity,” she said angrily to Pauline Goldmark, “but no law this year.”
As Goldmark hurried off to see what she could do, Joseph Hammitt, the lobbyist for the Citizens Union, asked Perkins quietly, “Do you really want that bill?”
“How many women work in canneries?”
“About ten thousand.”
“How many work in factories throughout the state?”
“About four hundred thousand.”
“If I were you, I’d do what I could for the four hundred thousand.”
She went out to the corridor to grapple with her conscience. Where did the worse betrayal lie? Her orders were explicit and recently confirmed. All over the state league members had worked for a law without exemptions. Suppose, in the league’s name, she abandoned the women in the canneries and then failed to achieve any law at all; what would be left of the league’s program for another year?
Alone in the corridor, she decided to accept the amendment, to work for the majority of women this year and those in the canneries next. Without daring to confess her decision to Goldmark she went directly to Wagner and MacManus. They protested that the league was against the canners’ amendment. No more, she insisted. She wanted the bill even if amended. Wagner, expressing his surprise, agreed to report it out.
But before he had done so, he was called to the dais to preside over the meeting while the lieutenant governor went out to confer with the governor. Minutes slipped by, and, to her horror, on a tally of heads she discovered that four of the senators whose votes she was counting on had gone home. At best she only had thirty-two votes, including those of the senators who had left; by constitutional requirement, in order to pass the bill she needed at least twenty-six, a majority of the fifty-one senators. Then she saw Big Tim and his cousin Christy Sullivan, also a senator, leaving to catch the eight o’clock boat.
She was aghast. She begged them to stay. Wagner had promised to have the assembly bill reported out of the Rules Committee.
Big Tim, whom a reporter once described as “no lily” but “human,” looked at her, considered, and then explained: “Wagner’s the chairman of the Rules Committee, and you’ll have to have a rule. He’s now the temporary president of the senate, so he can’t call the Rules Committee together to pass a rule. That’s the plan.”
“Oh, Mr. Sullivan!” she gasped. The guile of it left her speechless.
Her disappointment must have touched him, for after a moment he said: “Me sister was a poor girl, and she went out to work when she was young. I feel kinda sorry for them poor girls that work the way you say they work. I’d like to do them a good turn. I’d like to do you a good turn. You don’t know much about this parliamentary stuff, do you?”
She shook her head.
“Well, I’m the ranking senate member of the Rules Committee. Wagner is presiding officer, and his orders are not to recognize anybody to move for reconsideration. If you don’t believe me, you just try it. You get Newcomb to ask for a rule.”
As she realized the extent of his offer to help her and the theatricality of the role he was preparing to play, she began to enjoy the intrigue. Hastily she collected for him the signatures of a majority of the committee. Then she sent Josiah Newcomb and Mayhew Wainright, two of the committee’s lesser members, down the aisle asking to be recognized. Standing almost directly in front of Wagner, they raised their hands, waved their arms, and called, “Mr. President! Mr. President!” But he wouldn’t look at them. Ignored, they came back to her in defeat.
Then Big Tim, his point proved, his role created, went down the aisle in splendid fashion. “A report from the Rules Committee,” he called. “A report from the Rules Committee.” Wagner turned white. Even from the back of the chamber she could see it. Lawyerlike, he began to splutter, “I can’t receive any additional rules. No rules to be given.”
“I am the acting chairman of the Rules Committee,” Sullivan proclaimed, “and I de-mand a vote on whether I can make a report or not!”
He stood at the foot of the aisle absolutely confident, beaming. Wagner called in a parliamentarian, who ruled in Sullivan’s favor. The assembly’s bill exempting the canneries was called up for a vote.
The two Sullivans, with overcoats on, voted first and then left to catch the boat. Meanwhile pandemonium had broken out, for many of the senators, knowing nothing of Perkins’ switch, shouted to colleagues to vote against the bill while others shouted back that they were now to vote for it. In the confusion many hurried up to her, behind the brass rail, asking, “Is this right? Are you for it? Is it a trick?”
“Yes, yes,” she said excitedly, “I’m for it. I’ve authorized it. We want it. We want it.” But to increase the confusion, there at her side was Pauline Goldmark saying, “No. We don’t want it. You mustn’t say that.”
“Pauline, this is my responsibility,” she insisted. “I’ll do it and hang for it if necessary.”
But at the end of the roll call the tally was fourteen against and twentyfour in favor—two votes short of the twenty-six votes needed for a majority. After Big Tim’s departure two waverers had switched to vote against it. Wagner, at the end of the roll call, perhaps because he could see the bill already had been lost, voted for it. More significantly, Murphy’s lieutenant, Foley, had not voted.
Having made her decision to compromise on the original bill, Perkins refused to abandon the fight for the amended substitute. She told MacManus that she would call the Sullivans back from the boat and urged him to demand immediate reconsideration of the assembly’s bill. Under the senate rules he could do this as one who had voted for the bill, and his motion to reconsider—an internal procedural matter—would only need a majority of senators actually present and voting; 24-14 would be more than enough. Now the rising excitement in the chamber aided her. As she hurried to phone the Sullivans on the boat she heard MacManus taunt one of the waverers: “We’ll make you eat crow.”
Her opponents, however, were not yet defeated. Recognizing that MacManus’ motion to reconsider would pass easily, they concentrated instead on the vote on the bill itself, which would follow. They demanded a “closed call of the house": that is, during the roll call the doors of the chamber would be locked. The Sullivans would have to arrive before the call began or they would be locked out. Wagner ruled in favor of a closed call.
Under the rules governing motions to reconsider, each senator was allowed five minutes to explain his vote. When the call reached MacManus, he rose and for five minutes talked what later was described as “drivel.” Several other senators also stalled, using up every minute of their allotted time; one allegedly gave a lecture on birds. Just before the end of the call the Sullivans burst in—Big Tim red-faced and puffing, Christy white-faced and gasping. They had missed the taxi she had sent for them and had run up the hill. “Record me in the affirmative,” roared Big Tim as he came through the door.
“It’s all right, me girl,” he said to her while order was being restored. “We is with you. The bosses thought they was going to kill your bill, but they forgot about Tim Sullivan.”
This time, with Big Tim firmly in charge, the final vote on the bill itself was 27-16: passed. The senate and galleries broke into loud applause. Wagner and Foley, though they had voted in favor, looked sulky, but Big Tim grinned and beamed and accepted congratulations all around. Incidentally, among those voting for the bill, although he had not actively supported it, was a young senator named Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Later Perkins met a smiling Smith, who said to her, “You pulled a smart one. That was very smart. I didn’t think you had the courage to do it.” But her pleasure was somewhat diluted by the realization that she still had to face the Consumers’ League and its emotional and outspoken leader, Florence Kelley. As it turned out, Mrs. Kelley fell on her neck with praise and joy because for the first time in years there would be some limitation on the hours women could be required to work. Following this lead, Pauline Goldmark was also reconciled.
And the next year the law, without much opposition, was broadened to include the canneries.
There are experiences that seem to be decisive in a person’s life. For Frances Perkins this lesson in practical politics was such an experience. Ever after in her personal or professional life she was, as a close friend described her, “a half-loaf girl: Take what you can get now and try for more later.”
On April 19 Governor John A. Dix signed the bill. There was a small ceremony in his office with representatives of the Consumers’ League and other organizations that had supported it. Though Perkins made a short, positive speech about what the bill would mean to women, Governor Dix signed it with misgivings. “I don’t think this is a good idea,” he said. “I think it will put women out of work. I think they’ll hire men instead. I think women will lose their jobs. Anyhow, it’s not good for them not to be fully occupied.” He evidently subscribed to the argument put forward in the legislative debates that women, if working only fifty-four hours a week, would use their free time for immoral practices.
Perkins received considerable publicity for her part in the bill’s passage. InJuIy the popular Metropolitan Magazine carried an article about her entitled “Behind the Rail: Being the Story of a Woman Lobbyist.” The author, Leroy Scott, was an acquaintance and must have acquired much of his information from her, but she was careful not to aggravate anyone’s wounds. Sullivan is the hero of the story, neither Foley nor Murphy is mentioned, the two senators who wavered are not named, and Wagner, because most of his role is omitted, appears as well-intentioned but as presiding officer powerless to help.
Several years after the fifty-fourhour bill became law, Perkins went to Tammany Hall on Fourteenth Street to ask Murphy to support some legislation on factory buildings. By that time Smith and Wagner were making statewide reputations out of a factoryinvestigating commission, and the Democratic party, largely by supporting the commission’s recommendations, was becoming the dominant party in the state.
Murphy, dignified and reserved, was extremely courteous. He listened to her argument for the factory bill and then, leaning forward in his chair, said quietly, “You are the young lady, aren’t you, who managed to get the fifty-four-hour bill passed?”
She admitted she was.
“Well, young lady, I opposed that bill.”
“Yes, I so gathered, Mr. Murphy.”
“It is my observation,” he said, “that the bill made us many votes. I will tell the boys to give all the help they can to this new bill. Good-bye.”
As she left, murmuring her thanks, he asked, “Are you one of these women suffragists?”
“Yes, I am,” she stammered.
“Well, I am not,” he replied, “but if anyone ever gives them the vote, I hope you will remember that you would make a good Democrat.”