Becoming Madam Secretary
by Stephanie Dray

Published: 2024-03-12T00:0
Hardcover : 528 pages
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She took on titans, battled generals, and changed the world as we know it…

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 ...

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She took on titans, battled generals, and changed the world as we know it…

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.

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A Rake or a Boor

I didn’t think much of Franklin Delano Roosevelt when I first met him. But in my defense, almost
no one who met him in those days would’ve dreamed he’d amount to much.
He wasn’t born a great man, and I’m not even sure he was a good one. Goodness and
greatness came later.

When I met him, he was still an insufferable popinjay . . .

My new job required mixing with the city’s upper crust, people with old names or new money
who could use their influence to support our causes. So I was grateful to procure an invitation to
a late afternoon society tea dance in Gramercy Park, where—after my long-standing habit of
surviving on nothing but coffee and the occasional banana sandwich—I was inhaling cakes and
crudités like I’d never get another meal.

That’s when I overheard the beginnings of a rather spirited argument between a group of old
walrus-mustached high-hats and a clean-shaven young dandy wearing a starched collar that
seemed to prevent him from dipping his pointy chin low enough to look upon the little people.
“Now, now, Frank,” one of the old men said. “Don’t get worked up about your uncle Ted. We
know you have to side with your kin.”

“I’m not kin to Theodore Roosevelt except by marriage,” the popinjay protested, throwing his
head back and sneering down his nose in the most supercilious gesture I’d ever witnessed in
my life.

But it wasn’t the gesture that got my attention. It was the name.

Theodore Roosevelt.

Despite the popinjay’s starched collar and supercilious gestures, my interest was piqued by
mention of the former president.

Mary knew everyone at the party, of course. In fact, she knew everyone who was anyone. So,
pointing discreetly with my celery stick, I asked, “Who is that?”

“Franklin Roosevelt?” she asked. “Eleanor’s husband.”

Though I was forming a true friendship with the gregarious Mary Rumsey, I had only a passing
acquaintance with the tall, shy Eleanor Roosevelt through our mutual work. And now I was
confused. “Did he take Eleanor’s name upon marriage? That would be quite modern . . .”

Mary grinned. “No, no, Franklin and Eleanor are distant cousins. And nothing alike. As you
know, Eleanor is a very hardworking, earnest, and reserved person, whereas Franklin . . . well . .
.let it suffice to say that at their wedding, I had to scold him for brooding every time someone
congratulated him on his good luck in winning Eleanor’s hand. His vanity was so pricked that
he’s made it a habit at every society wedding since to tell the bride she is lucky to have nabbed
the groom.”

I laughed. “So he’s a rake or a boor?”

“Worse.” Mary let out a tinkling little laugh. “He’s a lawyer.”

I laughed too. “Is he someone I should know?”

“Probably not, but I’ll make an introduction anyway.”
... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the author:

1. Frances Perkins was proud to be 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?

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