25th Anniversary Article from OASIS

This article, from the October 1960 issue of OASIS, reports on the Social Security 25th anniversary ceremonies celebrated in Washington, D.C. on August 15, 1960. Also featured is a special audio clip exerpt from Frances Perkins' speech on the occasion.

WITH a guest list that read like the "Who's Who of Social Security," the Silver Anniversary celebration of the signing of the Social Security Act was launched in Washington. The Social Security Administration played host to dignitaries past and present.

The DHEW auditorium was filled to capacity and at 2 p.m. on Monday, August 15, Social Security Commissioner William Mitchell, presiding at the rostrum, began the milestone event. Secretary Arthur Flemming made the opening remarks, and introduced Madame Frances Perkins, who was Secretary of Labor during the Roosevelt Administration when the legislation was put into effect.

Madame Perkins, a vivacious lady who has "retired" to lecturing on Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, spoke extemporaneously about the early days of the program. In part, her remarks were:

"I cannot tell you what it means to me to meet you all on an occasion like this and to realize suddenly that I must have grown very old in these 25 years because I see some of you whom I thought of as the working boys of the first staff of the enterprise attempting to bring forth the Social Security Act, touched with grey . . . So I know that there is something very real and important to the human race; something good for us to look back at every now and then to see the roots of our beginnings, what they were, why they were, and who took the trouble and the enterprise to build up the institution of social security in the U.S.A. which became, as Franklin Roosevelt said, the cornerstone of his administration. For I think that nothing that was done during his day has brought so much credit to his day and to his wisdom as has this one thing. And this, of course, is due to the activity, effort, understanding and the planning of thousands of people, not only those who took part in the original survey of the possibilities, but to those who have administered this program down through the years and are still administering it.

"It has grown enormously . . . it has improved . . . but there is yet much that needs to be done and that I hope in God's good time will be done by bipartisan action as were the last amendments .

"I think. too, that we must remind ourselves of a few of the people who are not here today and who have gone to their last reward. In particular I think of Ed Witte, of Wisconsin, who did the heroic major work of writing in his own hand the results of the deliberations of committees and subcommittees and student research, and who drove a high-powered team of volunteer workers who came to do the research work for those of us who had the responsibility of developing and proposing to the President, and by the President to Congress, a social security act.

"For this was a thrown together team as many of you remember. We had no money. It was a great misfortune. The Committee on Economic Security had been appointed, but nobody remembered to have Congress pass an appropriation for us to work on. It was a little embarrassing and it seemed as though it couldn't be done, but by one device and another it was.

"We borrowed the money from Harry Hopkins--as a matter of fact--125,000--an enormous sum, but that was what we needed and it was all that it took to get the social security investigations, and research, and proposals, and planning, and law writing underway. Well, we borrowed it and that was all there was to it .

"We borrowed the working staff from all over the country; I remember it was just a telegram saying, 'We have no money; we can pay your railroad fare and your expenses if you really need expenses while you are in Washington, but there is no salary. Will you come?' and we had only one refusal.

"And the people who knew the most about existing security systems in other countries came and worked willingly, and worked at high pressure all through a summer so different from this . . . This was a team of high-powered people, professors from all over the country, whom Ed Witte had to drive and from whom he had to extract a program, and to whom he had to break the news that this particular idealistic pattern which some professor had thought up wouldn't do because, you know, the Senate, the Congress, the Supreme Court, politics in general . . .

"We were not yet out of the woods of the Great Depression and, of course, it was the Great Depression which we must never forget in this country, which was the proximate cause of this movement which was launched at that time--this movement to write under the lives of the American people a basis of security which came to them out of the orderly, substantial, and regular contributions to their future and to the future hazards.

"It would not have been done in that year, I am sure, except for the fact that the Great Depression was still staring us in the face and we were conscious of it whenever we walked on the streets of Washington. Those were different days. Today this is a very different world . . .

"The IBM machine hadn't been invented, the machines which you all operate so easily. And I want you to realize that it took courage to launch the program without those machines. I would like to add that under the circumstances I was always a bit nervous about it, and I remember the day that Arthur Altmeyer, who was then first Assistant Secretary of Labor, walked into my office and said, 'You know I think we've found it! These new IBM machines, I believe they can do it! . . . He had been talking about, you know, hand-written pieces of records and how they were to be organized and stacked up . . .

"So I think in every step as the social security program has progressed from year to year, and in the attitude of the people themselves toward the payment of the tax, there have come the answers to many of the questions that we knew not how to solve when we began, but which we were determined we had to solve. And I am thankful to say that I believe we did solve them . . . and that we will go forward into the future, a stronger nation because of the fact that we have this basic rock of security under all of our people."

Goals in Government

Madame Perkins' remarks were followed by an address entitled, "Goals in Government and Private Plans of Social Security," by former DHEW Secretary, Marion Folsom. Mr. Folsom, Director of the Eastman Kodak Company, has a broad background in the field of unemployment and old age insurance, and was a member of the first Advisory Council on Economic Security which helped draw up the Social Security Act of 1935.

He gave due credit to the present Social Security system for keeping on a "sound basis" and for being "very useful in our efforts to prevent dependency arising from unemployment, death or disability of the breadwinner, and old-age." His talk, rich in statistics, took the audience down the path from the Great Depression to the present, and showed how we stand today in meeting the economic crises that afflict us.

He pointed out that while we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go. In order to help attain the goals he recommended that a three pronged approach must be taken. The Federal Government alone should not be expected to provide everything; the State government, the individual and the employer must take on their fair share of the load, and together help provide for times of need.

Packet Available

The entire text of Mr. Folsom's speech is being made available to Bureau employees as part of a Twenty Fifth Anniversary packet of documentary and background information published in connection with the event.

During the reception which followed employees were able to chat with old friends from the early days of the program.

link to Perkins soundclip

Soundclip on the use of the IBM machines.
[In RealAudio format]
link to audio of Perkins' 25th anniversary speech Full speech by Frances Perkins at 25th anniversary ceremony.
[In RealAudio format]

photo of Frances Perkins, Marion Folsom and William Mitchell

It was a happy day in Washington and the Silver Anniversary mood was everywhere. Here former HEW Secretary Folsom (left) pauses with former Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins and present Social Security Commissioner William Mitchell prior to ceremonies where all three addressed an enthusiastic crowd in the Department's auditorium. OASIS.