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Reviews of Becoming Madam Secretary by Stephanie Dray

Becoming Madam Secretary

by Stephanie Dray

Becoming Madam Secretary by Stephanie Dray X
Becoming Madam Secretary by Stephanie Dray
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  • Published:
    Mar 2024, 528 pages


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Book Summary

New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Dray returns with a captivating and dramatic new novel about an American heroine Frances Perkins.

Raised on tales of her revolutionary ancestors, Frances Perkins arrives in New York City at the turn of the century, armed with her trusty parasol and an unyielding determination to make a difference.

When she's not working with children in the crowded tenements in Hell's Kitchen, Frances throws herself into the social scene in Greenwich Village, befriending an eclectic group of politicians, artists, and activists, including the millionaire socialite Mary Harriman Rumsey, the flirtatious budding author Sinclair Lewis, and the brilliant but troubled reformer Paul Wilson, with whom she falls deeply in love.

But when Frances meets a young lawyer named Franklin Delano Roosevelt at a tea dance, sparks fly in all the wrong directions. She thinks he's a rich, arrogant dilettante who gets by on a handsome face and a famous name. He thinks she's a priggish bluestocking and insufferable do-gooder. Neither knows it yet, but over the next twenty years, they will form a historic partnership that will carry them both to the White House.

Frances is destined to rise in a political world dominated by men, facing down the Great Depression as FDR's most trusted lieutenant—even as she struggles to balance the demands of a public career with marriage and motherhood. And when vicious political attacks mount and personal tragedies threaten to derail her ambitions, she must decide what she's willing to do—and what she's willing to sacrifice—to save a nation.

Chapter One
New York City
Summer 1909

My family built this country with muddy hands and a spark of madness. On my grandfather's side, we were brickmakers, shoveling clay out of pits along the Damariscotta River in Maine. On my grandmother's side, we were rebels, writing pamphlets against taxation without representation and taking up muskets against the redcoats.

Alas, just like some bricks break in the kiln, so, too, did some of my kin crack in the fire of the American Revolution. Madness runs in families, they say. Courage too. And I wasn't entirely sure which of those inheritable traits was most responsible for my decision as a young woman to move to New York City, where I'd be living in Hell's Kitchen, one of the most notoriously violent tenement slums.

The neighborhood-insofar as one could call it that-was so much under the thumb of gang leaders that policemen couldn't enter without fear of being pelted with stones by lookouts who then escaped down the drainpipes into a maze of rat-...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. Frances Perkins considered herself the descendant of revolutionary patriots. How did this image of herself and her place in the American story influence her career choices?
  2. The Triangle shirtwaist factory fire profoundly impacted Perkins. Can you think of other examples from the novel where a single event changed the direction of a character's life?
  3. How did Perkins navigate the discrimination she faced as a woman? What instances in the book struck you the most about this struggle? What scenes most effectively demonstrate her resilience?
  4. Frances Perkins's family struggled with mental illness in a time when bipolar disease was not well understood. How might things have turned out differently for her, and for the country, if ...

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BookBrowse Review


The job of writing historical fiction about a larger-than-life character like Ms. Perkins and all the important people she had to push, cajole, and convince, requires not only extensive research but also the creativity to try to discern and write what plausibly could have been her thoughts and her conversations. Stephanie Dray does a masterful job of all of the above. As she says in her Author's Note, "Novelists can go where historians rightly fear to tread." (Jim T). What a great book! I'm embarrassed to say I knew nothing of Frances Perkins nor her incredible achievements. A fiction book that sends the reader searching for more information must be a great book and this is one of them. I continue to be astonished that a book about the woman deeply involved in FDR's New Deal and the architect of Social Security could be such a page-turner! (Jeanne W)...continued

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

Shelf Awareness
Stephanie Dray brings Frances Perkins (1880-1965), U.S. Secretary of Labor and a fierce advocate for workers' rights, to vivid life in yet another gripping historical novel, Becoming Madam Secretary. … Becoming Madam Secretary, powerfully told and rich with historical detail, is a nuanced portrait of a brilliant woman and her triumphs in the face of staggering challenges.

The Chicago Book Reivew
Not only informative but a true joy to read.

The Montecito Journal
This is historical fiction at its finest.

The Historical Novel Review
The accomplishments of this remarkable woman, with her strength, determination, and drive, leave the reader with admiration and awe.

Highly recommended for all historical-fiction collections.

Library Journal
A fictionalized portrayal of a phenomenal woman who has largely been lost to history.

Publishers Weekly
Dray delivers an insightful fictional biography of Frances Perkins….historical fiction fans won't want to miss this.

Author Blurb Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Diamond Eye
Becoming Madam Secretary is a proud anthem to a forgotten founding mother. Frances Perkins starts out a bright young thing with an economics degree and an iron determination to make the world a better place, and ends up a shining star: first woman appointed to a presidential cabinet, architect of the New Deal, mother of Social Security, and FDR's much-relied-upon work wife throughout his entire presidency. Stephanie Dray's  love and respect for this American heroine shines from every page, as does her impeccable research. Unputdownable!

Author Blurb Lisa Scottoline,New York Times bestselling author of Loyalty 
Stephanie Dray is one of my absolute favorite authors of historical fiction, and her new novel Becoming Madam Secretary shows why. In the novel, Dray tells the story of the indomitable Frances Perkins….Dray's unique skill is telling the big picture of Frances's life, while at the same time making her a completely relatable wife in a difficult marriage and a working mother when that phrase was unheard of. I couldn't stop turning the pages in this novel, which is both an inspiration and a triumph!

Author Blurb Marie Benedict, New York Times bestselling co-author of The First Ladies
What a compelling, important story about a trailblazing woman! In Becoming Madam Secretary, Stephanie Dray takes readers on an enthralling journey as Frances Perkins rises to become the country's most important cabinet member during a crossroads in American history, one with lasting ramifications. Hers is a name we should all know, and this is a novel we should all read.

Author Blurb Michelle Moran, bestselling author of Rebel Queen
There is no finer writer of women in American history than Stephanie Dray. In Becoming Madam Secretary, her prose is so vivid that the modern world completely fades away and for a time, you feel you are actually standing with Frances Perkins, battling your way alongside FDR through the Great Depression. This is a novel for every viewer who watched The West Wing and wished it had once been a book. Simply outstanding.

Reader Reviews


Becoming Madam Secretary review
Stephanie Dray weaves a captivating and dramatic narrative in Becoming Madam Secretary. The novel introduces us to Frances Perkins, an American heroine whose impact reverberates through history. Raised on tales of her revolutionary ancestors, Frances...   Read More

Wonderful book
While historical fiction isn’t the first genre I typically go for I do enjoy it a lot, and I especially love stories like that this that take a piece of history that is not typically focused on. I will admit I didn’t know Frances Perkins or all that ...   Read More

Becoming Madame Secretary
An intriguing book about a forgotten woman who was instrumental in shaping American history as well as the lives of everyone today. Part 1 of the book was fascinating in detailing her early life and crusades for shorter working hours, work safety as ...   Read More
Jim T. (North Ridgeville, OH)

Inspiring Story of Frances Perkins
If you love history, you will love this book. If you love stories about strong women who made a difference in this world despite having to overcome barriers that no man would encounter, especially in times past, then you will love this book. Frances ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

US Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins

Frances Perkins on the cover of Time magazineBecoming Madam Secretary by Stephanie Dray narrates the life of Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the first woman to serve in the US Cabinet. Perkins was a tireless supporter of workers' rights and is credited with drafting and lobbying support for some of the most critical parts of the New Deal.

Frances Perkins was born in Boston in 1880 and grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts. She attended college at Mount Holyoke where she studied economic history and was inspired by Jacob Riis's account of life in New York City's slums, How the Other Half Lives. She toured factories and interviewed workers to get a sense of the conditions and the issues that mattered to them. From Mount Holyoke, ...

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