Relief for the Nation
Focus on the Workforce
Mary Norton became chair of the Committee on Labor in 1937. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, the first female cabinet secretary, sent Norton this congratulatory note, saying, “It means that wage earners of the nation will have in this important post a friend who is thoroughly familiar with their problems and sympathetic with their aims and aspirations.” Unlike other early women Representatives, Norton did not follow a father or husband into politics, and she hadn’t been active in the suffrage movement. As a way to cope with the death of her infant son, Norton volunteered at a local nursery in Jersey City, New Jersey. Her leadership and fundraising roles with the nursery put her in the path of a powerful local political operative, which led to local political positions, before her election as to Congress in 1924. Norton carried with her to Congress the experience of advocating for local women working in factories who relied on the nursery for child care. She worked throughout her House career to protect and enhance the rights of working-class families, and women in particular. Perkins’s words were prescient: Norton’s signature legislative accomplishment was shepherding the Fair Labor Standards Act to passage in 1938. The law provided for a 40-hour work week, outlawed child labor, and set a minimum wage.
In this 1933 photo, Perkins and Norton discuss an early labor bill with Labor Committee Chairman William Connery. Norton was a loyal supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal policies. Perkins, appointed as Secretary of Labor by President Franklin Roosevelt, was an ally in the administration on labor issues, and the women’s working relationship helped transform the labor landscape in America.