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On May 13, Christians celebrate the Feast of the Ascension. The Episcopal saints calendar marks an additional commemoration on May 13, a day set aside to remember Frances Perkins (1880-1965), the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet, who served as Secretary of Labor under Franklin D. Roosevelt. An Episcopal laywoman, Perkins worked tirelessly for the rights of working class people including the establishment of social security, unemployment insurance, child-working laws, and the federal minimum wage–all programs that grew out of her spirituality and passion for a “politics of generosity.”
…For the twenty years before she went to Washington, she was immersed in the
unique religious culture of New York, where high-church Anglicanism had played a
formative role in shaping a public religious culture . . . [Elite] in pedigree
and catholic in theology, New York Anglicanism enjoyed religious presidency in a city
where Roman Catholics and Jews tipped the balance in favor of a vision of
community that was at once pluralistic and solidaristic. Together, these three groups
forged a religious and civic culture that gave rise to a “politics of generosity.”
At the beginning of the Great Depression, some religious Americans advocated a “politics of righteousness,” that is, that people got what the deserved. In other words, the pious became wealthy, and sinners were poor. Perkins and her circle rejected this idea in favor of a “politics of generosity,” the theological belief that God has been generous with all humankind, and that those people who are more prosperous have wealth only because of grace. It is their spiritual duty, therefore, to be as generous with the poor as God has been with them.