Mary La Dame (1884-1972)

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Mary La Dame was Associate Director for the U.S. Employment Service, c. 1934 to 1938, and a special assistant to Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, c. 1938 to 1945.  La Dame was part of a “network” of women in government who “became an important force in enlarging women’s influence in the New Deal” [1].

Mary La Dame was born on August 21, 1884 in Winooski, Vermont, to Louis La Dame and Margaret F. Burke [2].  Sometime during Mary’s childhood the family moved to North Adams, Massachusetts [3].  She attended Drury High School and then graduated from Pembroke College (part of Brown University) in 1906 [4].  La Dame did graduate work at Harvard, Columbia, and Carnegie Tech, and spent most of her early work years at the Russell Sage Foundation [5].  She specialized in industry and labor issues, and put together reports such as Securing Employment for the Handicapped: A Study of Placement Agencies For This Group in New York City (1927) and The Filene Store: A Study of Employes’ Relation to Management in a Retail Store (1930).

During the 1920s, La Dame was an associate director for the Clearinghouse for Public Employment for New York City and became friends with Frances Perkins, who was then a high-level administrator in New York state government.  When newly-elected President Roosevelt brought Perkins into the New Deal administration, La Dame followed, as well [6].  As Associate Director of the U.S. Employment Service (USES), La Dame helped the nation respond to the economic crisis of the 1930s.  The USES had been restructured when President Roosevelt signed the Wagner-Peyser Act into law on June 6, 1933, “establishing a nationwide network of public employment service offices”; and it would play “a key role in economic recovery from the Great Depression by referring jobless workers to available private sector jobs as well as to newly created public works and public service jobs” [7].  La Dame, known for her administrative skills, coordinated employment services across the country, and she firmly believed that, “To the man or woman who is broke or hungry, a job is the most important thing in the world” [8].

In April 1936, it was rumored that La Dame had resigned from the USES and had, in a “mysterious” manner, moved to an office closer to Secretary Perkins: “The two women are close friends and it is reported that Miss Perkins is grooming Miss La Dame for appointment to the vacant job of assistant secretary” [9].  During the remainder of the New Deal and war years, La Dame continued to assist Perkins and participated in events to recognize and honor the heightened role of women in government [10].  In December 1940, it was reported that she would be lecturing at American University, along with eleven other prominent women, in a new course titled, “The Status of Women in the World Today” [11].

Not much is known about La Dame’s later years.  One historian noted that she continued to work in the Labor Department after Secretary Perkins left in 1945 [12].  At some point, probably after her retirement, she moved back to North Adams, Massachusetts.  She passed away at North Adams Regional Hospital in January 1972, the last of her immediate family [13].  In 1938, syndicated columnist Drew Pearson made reference to a “Ladies’ Brain Trust” made up of four women who advised Frances Perkins on important matters, and declared that La Dame was “the most active Trusterette” of all [14].


(1) Susan Ware, Beyond Suffrage: Women in the New Deal, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981, pp. 7-8.  (2) See, e.g., “Obituary, Miss Mary La Dame,” Bennington Banner (Bennington, Vermont), January 25, 1972, p. 5.  (3) “Local Woman Head of New York Club,” The North Adams Transcript, April 15, 1929.  (4) “Miss Mary La Dame in High Position,” The North Adams Transcript, April 15, 1933.  (5) See, e.g., note 1, p. 148.  (6) Ibid.  (7) Christopher J. O’Leary and Randall W. Eberts, “The Wagner-Peyser Act and U.S. Employment Service: Seventy-Five Years of Matching Job Seekers and Employers,” W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, 2008, p. vi,, accessed March 28, 2016.  (8) Mary Greiner Kelley, “Miss Mary La Dame, Associate Director of U.S. Employment Service, Attempts to Eliminate Duplication in Aid to Job Hunters,” Washington Post, August 15, 1934.  (9) Drew Pearson, “Merry-Go-Round,” The Salt Lake Tribune, April 12, 1936.  (10) See, e.g., note 1, p. 106; and “Dinner to Honor Women Holding U.S. Positions,” Washington Post, March 6, 1935.  (11) “Women Status Is New Course At American U.,” Washington Post, December 22, 1940.  (12) See note 1, p. 132.  (13) See note 2, both sources.  (14) Pearson’s column, “Merry-Go-Round,” appeared in many newspapers, but see “Miss Mary La Dame Is Member Of Perkins’ ‘Ladies’ Brain Trust,’” The North Adams Transcript, January 20, 1938.

LaDame Mary
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