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New film explores life of social work icon Frances Perkins

Movie poster

Movie poster

Social work icon and NASW Foundation Pioneer Frances Perkins (1880-1965) was the first female cabinet member, serving as U.S. Labor Secretary during the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Thanks to the advocacy of Perkins and others American workers enjoy several benefits we take for granted today, including a 40-hour work week, workplace safety rules and a minimum wage.

Filmmaker Mick Caouette has completed a documentary about Perkins, “Summoned: Frances Perkins and the General Welfare.” The film will shown be shown in select theaters on the East Coast and will air on PBS.

Social Workers Speak talked to Caouette about his motivation for making the documentary.

Q: Why did you decide to do a documentary on Frances Perkins? How did that come about?

 CAOUETTE:  For my other films, I remember the exact moment that I imagined a film about the subject, but, unfortunately, I don’t remember when I first decided to do this film in about 2008. I do remember that I was struck by her courage and persistence, and how she had a profound effect on American life, and yet no one knew who she was. That has been the MO for my films from the beginning. I like to bring back people who continue to improve our lives but have been forgotten.

Q: How did you go about researching Perkins’ life?

 CAOUETTE: I first read the three or four  biographies of Perkins, and then I did a lot of online research, as well as visits to the FDR Library in Hyde Park, Columbia University, Cornell University and other archives. My work involves as much research for film and photos as it does manuscript. So, I also used many film archives, including UCLA and University of South Carolina.

Director Mick Caouette

Director Mick Caouette

Q: Frances Perkins died in 1965 – what is the legacy of her life?

 CAOUETTE: Her legacy is so important and widespread, that I want the film to address that. But it is safe to say that she has improved the life of every single American in some way, in every generation, since 1932.

Q: What are some things people may not know about Frances Perkins that surprised you?

 CAOUETTE: So many things surprised me. Her tragic personal life, the abuse she endured in her public life, the amazing amount that she accomplished, and that her house in Maine is still there, and her grandson lives there! But there are so many other things. Again, the film will help with that.

Q: Where will the film be showing? Will it air on PBS?

 CAOUETTE:  We now have 14 pre-broadcast screenings, open to the public, and broadcast begins on March 1,2020, both an election year and a centennial of suffrage.

 Watch a preview of “Summoned: Frances Perkins and the General Welfare” and find out where it is being screened. And take time to read this biography of Frances Perkins on the NASW Foundation website.

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