The Mary Lou Chappell Lecture
Frances Perkins is no longer a household name, yet she was one of the most influential women of the twentieth century. Based on nine years of research, and exclusive access to Perkins’s family members and friends, Kirstin Downey’s biography is the first complete portrait of Frances Perkins, who was named Secretary of Labor by FDR in 1933.
Speaker: Kirstin Downey
Kirstin Downey is the oldest daughter of a ship captain and spent much of her childhood moving from place to place, including Hawaii and the Panama Canal Zone, developing a fascination with global trade and international economics. She studied journalism at Pennsylvania State University and then wrote for newspapers in Florida and Colorado before joining the staff of the San Jose Mercury, covering business in Silicon Valley.
She became a staff writer for the Washington Post in 1988. In 2000, Downey was awarded a Nieman fellowship at Harvard University, where she studied American economic history at Harvard Business School and participated in the Harvard Trade Union Program, where young labor activists are trained to become leaders in the movement. The fellowship also gave Downey the opportunity to focus full-time on research for her book about Frances Perkins.
In 2008, Downey shared in the Pulitzer Prize awarded to the Washington Post staff for coverage of the campus slayings at Virginia Tech. She left the Washington Post in 2009 to focus on finishing her biography of Frances Perkins, The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience, published by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday.
She researched and wrote Isabella the Warrior Queen between 2009 and 2014. It was published on October 28, 2014.
Downey is married to Neil Warner Averitt, and together they have five children.