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NYS Writers Institute, November 18, 2011
Researching New York Conference
4:00 p.m. Discussion | Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center,
Uptown Campus

Kirstin Downey, award-winning journalist for the Washington Post, and author of the critically acclaimed biography, The Woman Behind the New Deal (2009), about Frances Perkins, the nation’s first female cabinet secretary and one of FDR’s chief advisors, will speak about Perkins’ work as part of the Researching New York Conference, on Friday, November 18, 2011 at 4:00 p.m. in the Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center on the University at Albany’s uptown campus. The event, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by UAlbany’s Department of History, and the NYS Writers Institute.

The Woman behind the New DealAward-winning journalist Kirstin Downey will discuss the life of Frances Perkins and her 2009 book, The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience.

The nation’s first female cabinet secretary, Frances Perkins (1880-1965) witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, authored New York State’s fire safety code, and helped steer the state industrial commission from 1918-32, before moving to the national stage. An influential member of FDR’s presidential administration, her ideas became the cornerstones of the most important social welfare legislation in U.S. history. Downey will not only explore this woman’s remarkable accomplishments, but also the surprising fact that she has been neglected by historians and is now almost unknown to the general public.

In a starred review of Downey’s book, Publishers Weekly said, “No individual— not even Eleanor Roosevelt— exerted more influence over the formulation of FDR’s New Deal or did more to implement the programs than Frances Perkins. As former Washington Post staff writer Downey makes plain in this deeply researched biography, [Perkins] was the primary shaper of such new concepts as unemployment insurance, the 40-hour work week and—last but not least—Social Security. At a time when the United States stands at the brink of another economic meltdown calling for sweeping federal interventions, Downey provides not only a superb rendering of history but also a large dose of inspiration drawn from Perkins’s clearheaded, decisive work with FDR to solve urgent problems and to succeed in the face of insurmountable odds.”

The Woman Behind the New Deal was named one of the best non-fiction books of 2009 by the Library of Congress, the American Library Association, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. The book was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for “Best Biography.”

An award-winning writer at the Washington Post for 20 years, Kirstin Downey is a business reporter whose work illuminates the human implications of financial trends. From 2005-07 her reporting led the coverage of the growth of risky new mortgages that threatened our economic system. She shared the 2008 Pulitzer Prize awarded to Washington Post staff coverage of the Virginia Tech slayings.

For additional information on the Researching New York Conference go to: http://nystatehistory.org/researchny.


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