How Miss Perkins Learned To Lobby


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.