cover image Becoming Madam Secretary

Becoming Madam Secretary

Stephanie Dray. Berkley, $29 (528p) ISBN 978-0-593-43705-6

Dray (The Women of Chateau Lafayette) delivers an insightful fictional biography of Frances Perkins (1880–1965), the first woman to serve in the U.S. Cabinet. At the outset, Frances studies childhood malnutrition in 1909 New York City as part of her master’s thesis in economics and sociology. Determined to stop children from working in factories and to advocate for the rights of all workers, she takes a job as a lobbyist for the Consumers’ League of New York City. The next year, she meets attorney Franklin Delano Roosevelt at a tea dance, and the two clash over their differing views on social justice initiatives (he’s circumspect, she’s strident). Frances also meets Paul Wilson, an economist and heir to the Marshall Fields fortune, whom she goes on to marry. Dray pulls off an exhaustive and stirring chronicle of Frances’s professional achievements as she struggles to raise a family with Paul, who is diagnosed as manic-depressive. As secretary of labor in FDR’s cabinet, Frances toils to gain support from the president and the public for the Social Security Act, which finally passes in 1935, and she draws on the example of the strong-willed Eleanor Roosevelt to persevere while Paul is institutionalized for his mental illness. Women’s historical fiction fans won’t want to miss this. Agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Mar.)