Founding Mothers:
the Women who Raised our Nation

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Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts


This is the hardcover edition

Other editions:
Paperback: large print
Audio cassette: unabridged
Audio CD: unabridged


Book Description

Cokie Roberts's number one New York Times bestseller, We Are Our Mothers' Daughters , examined the nature of women's roles throughout history and led USA Today to praise her as a "custodian of time-honored values." Her second bestseller, From This Day Forward , written with her husband, Steve Roberts, described American marriages throughout history, including the romance of John and Abigail Adams. Now Roberts returns with Founding Mothers , an intimate and illuminating look at the fervently patriotic and passionate women whose tireless pursuits on behalf of their families -- and their country -- proved just as crucial to the forging of a new nation as the rebellion that established it. While much has been written about the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, battled the British, and framed the Constitution, the wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters they left behind have been little noticed by history. Roberts brings us the women who fought the Revolution as valiantly as the men, often defending their very doorsteps. While the men went off to war or to Congress, the women managed their businesses, raised their children, provided them with political advice, and made it possible for the men to do what they did. The behind-the-scenes influence of these women -- and their sometimes very public activities -- was intelligent and pervasive.

Drawing upon personal correspondence, private journals, and even favored recipes, Roberts reveals the often surprising stories of these fascinating women, bringing to life the everyday trials and extraordinary triumphs of individuals like Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Deborah Read Franklin, Eliza Pinckney, Catherine Littlefield Green, Esther DeBerdt Reed, and Martha Washington -- proving that without our exemplary women, the new country might never have survived.

Social history at its best, Founding Mothers unveils the drive, determination, creative insight, and passion of the other patriots, the women who raised our nation. Roberts proves beyond a doubt that like every generation of American women that has followed, the founding mothers used the unique gifts of their gender -- courage, pluck, sadness, joy, energy, grace, sensitivity, and humor -- to do what women do best, put one foot in front of the other in remarkable circumstances and carry on.

About the Author

Cokie Roberts is a political commentator for ABC News and serves as senior news analyst for National Public Radio. From 1996 to 2002, she and Sam Donaldson co-anchored the weekly ABC interview program, THIS WEEK.

In addition to broadcasting, Roberts, along with her husband, Steven V. Roberts, writes a weekly column syndicated in newspapers around the country by United Media. The Robertses are also contributing editors to USA MAGAZINE, and together they wrote FROM THIS DAY FORWARD, an account of their more than thirty-five-year marriage and other marriages in American history. The book immediately went onto the New York Times bestseller list, following a six-month run on the list by Cokie Roberts's other book, WE ARE OUR MOTHERS' DAUGHTERS.

She is the mother of two and grandmother of four.

Back Cover
1st Chapter
Editorial Reviews

American Revolution Books

From Publishers Weekly
ABC News political commentator and NPR news analyst Roberts didn't intend this as a general history of women's lives in early America - she just wanted to collect some great "stories of the women who influenced the Founding Fathers." For while we know the names of at least some of these women (Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Eliza Pinckney), we know little about their roles in the Revolutionary War, the writing of the Constitution, or the politics of our early republic. In rough chronological order, Roberts introduces a variety of women, mostly wives, sisters or mothers of key men, exploring how they used their wit, wealth or connections to influence the men who made policy. As high-profile players married into each other's families, as wives died in childbirth and husbands remarried, it seems as if early America - or at least its upper crust - was indeed a very small world. Roberts's style is delightfully intimate and confiding: on the debate over Mrs. Benedict Arnold's infamy, she proclaims, "Peggy was in it from the beginning." Roberts also has an ear for juicy quotes; she recounts Aaron Burr's mother, Esther, bemoaning that when talking to a man with "mean thoughts of women," her tongue "hangs pretty loose," so she "talked him quite silent." In addition to telling wonderful stories, Roberts also presents a very readable, serviceable account of politics - male and female - in early America. If only our standard history textbooks were written with such flair! 7 illus. not seen by PW .
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The Washington Post's Book World/
Celebratory history is making a big comeback. Cokie Roberts joins a steady stream of authors stoking the fires of patriotism. To the "Let us now praise famous men" refrain, she has countered with praise for their wives, sisters and daughters.

Most professional historians during the past four decades have turned from lauding the great events and men in the American past to reconstructing the neglected lives of ordinary people. There's a story behind this shift that helps explain the current outpouring of tributes to the country's Revolutionary leaders.

After World War II, American universities opened wide their doors to veterans whose education was funded by the G.I. Bill. African Americans and descendants of the immigrants from Italy, Greece, Poland, the Balkans and Germany who flooded into the United States at the turn of the 20th century entered college, usually the first in their families to do so. Many went on to get advanced degrees in history, as did lots of women.

These newcomers to higher education brought fresh questions to their calling. They wanted to know about ordinary people and sought to locate their own forbears in the American past, rather than study the WASP gentlemen and Midwestern radicals whose exploits filled the history books. Their rallying cry became "History from the bottom up."

Historical inquiries "from the bottom up" couldn't be answered in the traditional way. Ordinary people by definition didn't sit in Congress or the Oval Office, didn't lead armies or head diplomatic missions. So these newly minted historians turned to long-term data in local records offices and used computers and social scientific hypotheses to analyze their findings.

Those who wrote dissertations in the 1960s and '70s churned out questions about undistinguished Americans with great gusto, investigating such topics as their average age at marriage; the mortality and fertility rates that determined the growth and decline of population; the workday routines of the immigrant, the slave, the laboring man and woman; and patterns of inheritance and mobility. Not the stuff of celebratory history, but vastly important to understanding how past generations have dealt with the challenges and limitations they found in the United States. In 1960 there were only a handful of books on African Americans or women; today the volumes number in the tens of thousands.

Since these studies were often quite dry, with tables and graphs gracing pages that earlier would have contained evocative photos and pictures of paintings, the public knew little about this work. Not until parents discovered Harriet Tubman in their children's textbooks did they tumble to the fact that fife-and-drum history had been replaced by tales of hard times, disappointments, even failures experienced by those at the bottom. Rather than respond positively, many people labeled the new history "revisionism," a pejorative term that suggested the manipulation of sources rather than the acquisition of new knowledge.

Recent grumblings about the neglect of "dead white men" have prompted some non-academic historians and professional writers to go back to the heroes of the revolutionary era. One of the most popular books -- David McCullough's John Adams -- has sold almost 2 million copies, an unheard-of record for a work of history. Now every season brings still more publications on the founding era.

With Founding Mothers, Roberts fills a gap in our coverage of the era without straying far from the familiar story of colonial resistance, the struggle for independence and the climactic writing of the U.S. Constitution. We don't lose sight of the white male titans who built the nation; we just see them from the vantage point of the women they wooed and the families they worried about -- usually at a distance -- during America's longest war.

Husbands were separated from wives, sisters and brothers from each other, parents from their children. Almost all the relatives in this select, upper-class group bridged their separations by writing long letters filled with pithy descriptions of troop movements, laments about deaths and pleadings for reunions. Roberts has uncovered hundreds of personal anecdotes and woven them together in a single, suspenseful narrative with great skill. While she's out to demonstrate that the wives of America's heroes were a mighty force for independence, her storyteller's instincts generally win out over patriotic endorsements.

Founding Mothers has something of the tone of a book for young adults with its chatty commentary and references to the present. Many of Roberts's heroines are familiar to us. We find Eliza Pinckney, Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Mercy Warren and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton in these pages, but Roberts's exhaustive canvassing of the correspondence of these notable wives introduces us to dozens of new people.

These doyennes of American society kept running into each other during the war and its aftermath. Many of them were related, and others became so as the war expanded their social circle. Roberts artfully stitches together their separate and overlapping experiences, reminding us that in war as in peace, men and women go on courting, conceiving children, consoling the sick and mourning the dead. These domestic details quicken our sympathy for a cohort of women who faced a relentless succession of pregnancies -- each one a risk -- as well as virulent diseases that threatened their lives and those of their husbands and children.

Describing the trauma of a war fought close to home, Roberts details how Gen. Nathaniel Greene kept his wife informed of atrocities committed by the British Army. "Even the spirited Kitty was understandably terrified when the British landed in Newport, Rhode Island, and took the town without a struggle," Roberts reports. "She was pregnant again and afraid she had nowhere to hide." The reading public obviously craves stories of bravery, sacrifice and wisdom and rightly turns to the nation-building decades for models of conduct. But celebration has its pitfalls. In earlier times, the discounted story of Jessica Lynch raining bullets on her Iraqi attackers might have lived on -- as did the tale of Davy Crockett fighting to his last breath at the Alamo, when in fact he was overpowered and captured and then summarily executed by Santa Anna's men. Roberts, like those earlier historians, chooses to take the inspiring tales she tells at face value.

Celebratory histories give debunkers their work just as scholarly tomes create an appetite for suspenseful narratives. Rather than try to reconcile these differing stances towards the past, it's probably better to accept that our past is a rich reservoir for reconstructing structures, processes and patterns as well as mythic sagas. Where a professional historian would have analyzed the accounts Roberts gleaned from her research, she has invited us to suspend disbelief and simply enjoy her skill as a chronicler.
Reviewed by Joyce Appleby
Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

From Booklist
Political correspondent Roberts has deep roots in American political families--her mother was a U.S. congresswoman from Louisiana, and an ancestor, William Claiborne, was a U.S. congressman from Tennessee in the 1790s. Here she offers a look at the women--mostly wives and mothers--who supported the men credited with creating the U.S. Lamenting the dearth of history about these women, Roberts primarily draws on letters and diaries to document their significant contributions. Among her subjects is Deborah Read Franklin, who was virtually abandoned for 16 of the last 17 years of her marriage to Benjamin, who held a post in England and left her to manage the home and businesses. She was forced to protect their home from a mob angry at her husband's position on the Stamp Act. Also among those profiled are Martha Washington, who used her considerable wealth to help finance the revolution; Abigail Adams, whose famous remark to her husband, John, to "remember the ladies" was thought to be a reference to women's rights; and Phyllis Wheatley, a former slave who earned the admiration of George Washington with her poetry. Roberts offers a much-needed look at the unheralded sacrifices and heroism of colonial women. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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