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

Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation
Author: Cokie Roberts
Genre: Nonfiction. History, Biography
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: 2004
Pages: 384
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: 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 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 Adam. 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 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 favoured 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.

     My Review: We have heard the tales of great men like General Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Hancock. We know about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the drafting of the Constitution, and the forming of the new country. Yet behind all these fabulous tales about these great men, what did the women do? The only stories told down to us about the women are the stories of Betsey Ross, Molly Pitcher, and Dolly Madison. The  rest of the women remain largely in the background during this era, and are considered unimportant that sometimes we forget that there were women. However, in Cokie Roberts's book Founding Mothers, Mrs. Roberts shows that much of the success in forming the new nation was due to the efforts of the women. 

     The Founding Fathers were not saints. They had faults, weaknesses, fears, and shortcomings just like anyone else, but they had a vision that moulded the founding of America. But the women had to be the rock, the foundation for them to have the freedom to meet and keep the Founding Fathers in line from bickering with each other. For instance, we know that Martha Washington entertained troops at Valley Forge, but after the war, sometimes hundreds of visitors a year came to Mount Vernon with business for George, and Mrs. Washington had to feed them all. As first lady, she was required to host receptions, yet she was also criticized for putting the receptions on even though it was a requirement as first lady.  

     Another tale is that of Abigail Adams. Abigail had a sharp tongue. Cokie Roberts portrays her as a woman who better understood politics more than her husband. She managed both the farm and John Adams’ law business, dealt with food shortages caused by war, and raised her children, all the while trying to fend off British soldiers. When she asked John’s advice about how she should prepare for the war against Britain, John Adams replied that if it is really dangerous, she and the children should just flee to the woods. Abigail also formed a friendship with Thomas Jefferson and she kept them from going at each other.

     Another little known story is Benjamin Franklin’s wife Deborah. Benjamin Franklin is known to have started the postal service in America. But what most people don’t know is that he left the business up to his wife. Benjamin Franklin moved to France and England where he enjoyed the comforts of the ladies. He would have stayed there, but he was forced to come back because his wife died to keep his business ventures in America from going under after Mrs. Franklin's death.. He was absent for sixteen of the seventeen years of his marriage with Deborah. Deborah had to run the post office to make sure it was successful and raise her children entirely by herself.

     Some more interesting highlights about these Founding Mothers was that Eliza Pinckney’s father left the business of running a massive plantation to Eliza at sixteen years young, expecting her to be successful. Aaron Burr turned out to be a rogue because his mother died when he was young, and it was Catherine Greene that helped Eli Whitney invent the cotton gin. Alexander Hamilton, who because of his lowly upbringing, only got respect because he married well. It was only because of his marriage to a wealthy, well-bred woman that he was able to get the position of Secretary of Treasury. One humorous story involving George Washington is that he did not wish his own mother to move in with him and Martha at Mount Vernon, yet welcomed his mother-in-law with open arms. 

      Overall, this is an excellent biography of the wives, sisters, and daughters of the Founding Fathers. This book covers the challenges the men and women of that time faced, the fighting between the Founding Fathers that the women had to help keep in check, and scandals that are so fascinating most times it reads like a soap opera. The writing is very engaging and sometimes written in a humorous style. I believe that this should be read by anyone interested in American history and women in extraordinary circumstances giving their all for the cause. This book helps give a full picture of the founding of the country and the men and women behind  them. This book is a great tribute to these women and their efforts.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


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