Perkins and Dewson: Activists, Reformers, Feminists
The Helen Temple Cooke Library will close out 2019 by hosting a five-panel traveling exhibit about Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve in the U.S. presidential cabinet. Made possible by the Frances Perkins Center in Damariscotta, Maine, the exhibit has also provided Dana Hall School with an opportunity to celebrate one of its most accomplished alumnae: Molly Dewson, from the Class of 1893. Though less well-known than Perkins, Dewson was a formidable figure in U.S. women’s and political history.
Dewson went from Dana Hall to Wellesley College, and then worked for the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union. In a later role with the Women’s City Club of New York she met Eleanor Roosevelt, and the two worked closely together when Dewson served as Director of the Women's Division of the Franklin D. Roosevelt 1932 presidential campaign. In the Spring of 1933, Dewson became the Director of the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee.
In addition to organizing women to support Democratic candidates and economic policies, Dewson also convinced President Roosevelt to put more women in high level government positions, including Perkins as the Labor Secretary. She was a driving force behind many of the New Deal programs, including Social Security and the minimum wage. “She has been described as the first female political boss,” said Dana Hall Archivist Dorothy DeSimone P06, P10, whose team created a companion display about Dewson to accompany the Perkins exhibit. “Her full name was Mary Williams Dewson, or M.W. Dewson, so she was known as ‘More Women’ Dewson and ‘Minimum Wage’ Dewson. She was really quite remarkable.”
The Helen Temple Cooke Library will host an opening reception for the exhibit on Thursday, Dec. 5, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Sarah Peskin, Chair of the Board of Directors at the Frances Perkins Center, will attend, make remarks and take questions. The Perkins exhibit and Dewson display will be open, during regular library hours, through December 18.
"My favorite Dana Hall memory would be the first time I ever sang the Alma Mater with my fellow classmates. That was most definitely the first time I felt like I was truly a part of something. Joining hands with my future Silver Sisters made me truly feel like I was a Dana girl."