The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Remembering the Ladies with Cokie Roberts

Founding MothersOn 29 January, the Society hosted a special author talk for a very lucky group of middle-school students. The star of the show was none other than Cokie Roberts: MHS Fellow, journalist, political commentator, and author of the new children's book Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies. The book, which is based on her 2004 bestseller Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation, chronicles the lives of the women who helped to found and nurture the United States. Abigail Adams is duly represented, as are Martha Washington, Phillis Wheatley, and Mercy Otis Warren. The book also introduces young readers to characters who might be less familiar: women like Deborah Sampson, the Massachusetts native who disguised herself as a man and fought in the Revolution, or Esther DeBerdt Reed, who raised more than $300,000 to purchase supplies for the underfunded Continental Army.

As the noon hour approached, nearly 120 pre-teen history enthusiasts from Lexington, Mendon, and Upton, Mass., filled the MHS Reading Room to learn more about Ms. Roberts, her book, and the documents that made it possible. After a brief overview of the book, Ms. Roberts opened the floor to questions from the audience. The students asked nearly every question imaginable (and several that no one could have seen coming) over the next 45 minutes. For example, which revolutionary lady would Ms. Roberts most like to hang out with? Sarah Livingston Jay, of course! Jay, the smart, funny, feisty wife of patriot John Jay, raised her family and managed her household with good humor while supporting her husband's busy political career. Several students asked Ms. Roberts to connect women of the past to the ladies of the present. One clever young lady from Lexington asked if there were any current situations in which Americans needed to "remember the ladies." As Ms. Roberts explained, several groups of Americans are still fighting for equality in our society today. Women in particular must still advocate for equal pay, and for more flexible working conditions that recognize women's essential role as caregivers. (Keep fighting, ladies!)

The afternoon's presentation was perhaps best summed up with a question asked by a young lady from Mendon: why didn't women have rights from the very beginnings of colonial America? Well, it could have taken hours to debate that issue, but unfortunately, the students had to return to school. The program ended with Ms. Roberts signing autographs (and even a few hands!) while the students perused a small exhibit of MHS documents featured in Ms. Roberts's works. The students had the opportunity to read Abigail Adams's "remember the ladies" letter and Phillis Wheatley's poems, along with a fascinating letter written by Paul Revere in support of Deborah Sampson's request for a military pension.

Contact the Society's education department if you are interested in bringing your students or colleagues to the MHS for a program or workshop. While we can't promise that Cokie Roberts will make an appearance, we can guarantee that your students will have a great time learning about the past through MHS collections!

permalink | Published: Monday, 3 February, 2014, 11:14 AM