Author and journalist Cokie Roberts steps away from her usual role as political commentator for NPR and ABC to talk about her new children’s book, Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation, which highlights female explorers, educators, writers and activists who helped shape the United States between 1776 and 1824.
Both Ladies of Liberty and Roberts’ first children’s book, Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies, are adaptations of adult novels written by Roberts in the 2000s.
Roberts spoke with WBEZ’s Jenn White on the Morning Shift. Here are some highlights from their conversation.
On the difficulty of writing women’s history
It’s very hard to find anything about women. It’s detective work.
One of the things that’s so interesting when you write women’s history is that people denigrate it, even when you have the records. It’s really hard to get the records and then even when you have them, you have historians who say, ‘Oh those women didn’t really matter.’
And that was certainly the case with Sacagawea. Almost everything I know about her comes from Lewis and Clark’s own journals. And they were so admiring of her, and you can watch them grow more admiring of her as the trip — the arduous, difficult trip — progresses. Clark basically says, ‘She was essential to us,’ and still she’s been just sort of cast aside by and large.
On men’s letter vs. women’s letters
Women’s letters are just wonderful. The men wrote letters that were very studied because they knew if they succeeded, they would be big deals; there would be bronze and marble statues. They wrote like the statues were writing the letters.
The women wrote letters. And they are frank and funny. They will have a lot of politics but then fashion, and who’s having and, all too often, losing babies, and what the economic situation is; it’s much more of a picture of society than what you have from the men’s letters.
On what we lose when important figures are left out of history books
We don’t tell the whole story. To some degree it’s inaccurate history if you’re not telling the complete history.
What I always say about writing about women is it’s the other half of the human race for heaven’s sake. And so to not have what their contributions were — what their activities were — really does leave out a huge hunk of what we need to know. And particularly for this country — we are so admiring of our founding fathers and of that era particularly — to not know what the women were doing at the time the men were crafting the constitution and declaring independence and all that is really to miss out.
On the common character traits she sees among notable women of history
The women were in a place and time where they had to rise to occasions but they were so ready to do it. They were in some ways delighted to have the opportunity to show what they could do in many cases.
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