Bulletin Insert – May 13, 2018

Frances Perkins: Reminding Them of Their Mothers

Frances Perkins listened sympathetically as a stalwart member of the New York state legislature confessed a political misdeed. Because she barely knew him, she asked why he had confided in her. “Well, Miss Perkins,” he said, “all men have mothers.” The young lobbyist for workers’ welfare realized her tricorne hat and sober manner of dress reminded him of his mother.

The second Sunday of May is celebrated as Mother’s Day in more than 40 nations around the world. The observance is intended to encourage people to appreciate how their own mothers made a home for them and provided for their needs, often without being asked and frequently without acknowledgment.

This year, Mother’s Day falls on May 13, the day the Episcopal Church honors Frances Perkins, whose work providing for our needs often goes unacknowledged. As the chief advocate and architect of the Social Security Act, she succeeded in lifting half the nation’s elderly out of poverty shortly after it became law in 1935. Through it, she also provided unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation to millions of others and stipends through age 18 to millions of children who lost a wage-earning parent. These blessings have continued for 83 years. Last year alone her enduring achievement lifted 22 million Americans above the poverty line.

A lifelong associate of All Saints Sisters of the Poor, she spent one day a month in silent retreat at their Maryland convent throughout her 12 years in the New Deal cabinet. A 1948 lectures series at St. Thomas, Fifth Avenue, revealed her profoundly incarnational theology.

Perkins was confirmed in 1905 at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Lake Forest, Illinois while volunteering at Hull House in Chicago. Later, fighting human trafficking in Philadelphia, she worshiped at St. Clement’s. In New York, she married Paul Wilson in the Chantry of Grace Church and then formed a lifelong relationship with the Church of the Resurrection. In Washington, St. James, Capitol Hill, was her beloved parish. While teaching at Cornell late in life, she worshiped at St. John’s, Ithaca.  On summer visits to the Perkins homestead in Maine, St. Andrew’s, Newcastle, was her church home.

Frances Perkins (1880-1965) will be honored at this year’s General Convention with an exhibit created by the Frances Perkins Center (www.FrancesPerkinsCenter.org). More information on Perkins can be found at www.AnglicanExaminer.com.

Donn Mitchell is the author of Tread the City’s Streets Again: Frances Perkins Shares Her Theology. He teaches religion and ethics at Berkeley College in New York.

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