Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ladies of Liberty by Cokie Roberts

Cokie Roberts, author of Founding Mothers, published her second book, Ladies of Liberty, on the influential women of the early days in 2008. The research that went into both of these volumes is well documented and presented. Roberts has a style of writing that makes history comes alive, although, I must admit, that some sections were much more alive than others.

Roberts begins Ladies of Liberty with the election of John Adams to the presidency and continues to the presidency of James Monroe. Throughout this time frame we are introduced to the women behind the men. The stories of these incredible women are retold mainly through their letters to the Founding Fathers and other women of their inner circle. These women were really movers and shakers and influential as they were the eyes and ears of their husbands who were often the only connection the men had to the home front as they were carrying out the business of the new country. Roberts' history is really storytelling at its epitomé. We are treated to scene after scene in the lives of women like Abigail Adams, Louisa Johnson Adams, Dolley Madison, Betsy Monroe, Theodosia Burr, Rosalie Calvert, Martha Jefferson, Martha Washington, and even Sacajawea.

I was especially intrigued by the strength that these women showed. The story of how Sacajawea was so confident in her guidance of Lewis and Clark as they trail blazed the Louisiana Purchase kept me turning pages, eager for her next adventure and discovery. The fortitude of Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, is for us And then there was Dolley Madison. She set the expectations for what the home of the President and the first lady should be. Abigail Adams is a woman about whom I can never learn enough. No matter what book I read I always pick up a new tidbit or insight into her life. She was a woman to be reckoned with in her time. Who else would write to a President and ask that he bring her son home from Russia because it was too cold and the salary was not enough to sustain life there?

Roberts pays special homage to women who were social reformers, those who sought to care for orphans and the education of women. As a graduate of Wellesley College she remembers and honors those whose mission was to serve and not to be served. Likewise, we should not forget the likes of Emma Willard and Rebecca Gratz.

As I was reading this book a number of recurring themes stuck in my mind. I kept wondering what it would have been like and how our history might have been different if communication had been better. We would have known that treaties had been signed before battles fought. I am amazed at the mortality rate of children and how mothers and fathers dealt with these tragedies. Along the same vein, the mortality of women in childbirth was as scary. And yet women still endured pregnancy one after another. What if our Founding Mothers had access to birth control? Finally, we should take note and be thankful for all that our ancestors endured and the pride that they had for their families and their country. They serve as an example for us all.

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