Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation

Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation

by Cokie Roberts


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Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation by Cokie Roberts

In Founding Mothers, Cokie Roberts paid homage to the heroic women whose patriotism and sacrifice helped create a new nation. Now the number one New York Times bestselling author and renowned political commentator—praised in USA Today as a "custodian of time-honored values"—continues the story of early America's influential women with Ladies of Liberty. In her "delightfully intimate and confiding" style (Publishers Weekly), Roberts presents a colorful blend of biographical portraits and behind-the-scenes vignettes chronicling women's public roles and private responsibilities.

Recounted with the insight and humor of an expert storyteller and drawing on personal correspondence, private journals, and other primary sources—many of them previously unpublished—Roberts brings to life the extraordinary accomplishments of women who laid the groundwork for a better society. Almost every quotation here is written by a woman, to a woman, or about a woman. From first ladies to freethinkers, educators to explorers, this exceptional group includes Abigail Adams, Margaret Bayard Smith, Martha Jefferson, Dolley Madison, Elizabeth Monroe, Louisa Catherine Adams, Eliza Hamilton, Theodosia Burr, Rebecca Gratz, Louisa Livingston, Rosalie Calvert, Sacajawea, and others. In a much-needed addition to the shelves of Founding Father literature, Roberts sheds new light on the generation of heroines, reformers, and visionaries who helped shape our nation, giving these ladies of liberty the recognition they so greatly deserve.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060782351
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/24/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 296,223
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile: 1300L (what's this?)

About the Author

Cokie Roberts is a political commentator for ABC News and NPR. She has won countless awards and in 2008 was named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress. She is the author of the New York Times bestsellers We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters, Founding Mothers, Ladies of Liberty, and, with her husband, the journalist Steven V. Roberts, From This Day Forward and Our Haggadah.

Diane Goode is the illustrator of more than fifty beloved and critically acclaimed picture books, including the Caldecott Honor Book When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant. Inspired by the handwritten letters of the Founding Mothers, she begins with their quill and sepia handwriting and spins out the line to re-create their images and the remarkable events of their lives for a new generation of young readers.

Read an Excerpt

Ladies of Liberty
The Women Who Shaped Our Nation

Chapter One

The Presidency of John and Abigail Adams

For the first time, Americans mourned as one. Again and again over the centuries the country would come together in grief or shock—the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center, the death of Franklin Roosevelt. The first of those nation-binding tragedies rocked the public in the last days of the eighteenth century. On December 14, 1799, George Washington died.

Of course on that day no stentorian-voiced anchormen broke into regular programming to announce the sudden and unexpected death; no dramatic stop-the-presses moment marked the passing of the "Father of the Country." It took some time for the news from Mount Vernon, where Martha Washington had been keeping watch over her husband of almost forty-one years, to reach the rest of the world. First family and friends nearby, then the Congress, still meeting over Christmas in the temporary capital of Philadelphia, received the report of the sudden loss of the sixty-seven-year-old man who had been leader since soon after the first shots of the Revolution were fired almost twenty-five years earlier. Congress set the official memorial service for the day after Christmas. A Philadelphia woman the next day estimated that four thousand people attended that service—led by President John Adams and "his Lady," the indomitable Abigail Adams. Her husband's chief adviser, the First Lady knew that this public display would help John Adams politically, and she was nothing if not politically savvy. Animportant election was in the offing, or as Abigail Adams put it, "a time for intrigue is approaching," and it couldn't hurt the embattled incumbent president to remind the voters of his ties to the Federalist "fallen hero"—of the fact that Adams had served loyally as vice president to President George Washington—going into a tough campaign against his own vice president, Republican Thomas Jefferson. Abigail, always on the lookout for what she saw as her husband's best interests, would get out front on this tragedy to milk it for all it was worth politically.

And it soon became clear that the political impact could be huge. The demise of Washington seemed to hold the country spellbound; especially affected were the women who documented the death in dire accounts. During the Adams presidency, women were beginning to bring their private political views into the public sphere and to publish under their own names. One of them, Judith Sargent Murray, described the scene when the news of the death reached Boston. "The calamitous tidings reached us this morning," the feminist writer informed her sister on December 23. "The bells commenced their agonizing peels, the theatre, and museum were shut, balls, festive assemblies and amusements of every description are suspended, ships in the harbor display the insignia of mourning, and a day of solemn humiliation, and prayer, in every place of public worship in this Town is contemplated."

Instead of huddling around the television, saddened citizens congregated in churches, paraded in processions, printed poems, offered orations, sought mementos, and fashioned souvenirs of the man who seemed to symbolize the young country. No one was sure that the nation would survive the loss of its first leader. With the perspective of a foreign observer, Henrietta Liston, the wife of the British ambassador, pondered the political repercussions: "It is difficult to say what may be the consequences of his death to this country," she wrote to her uncle. "He stood the barrier betwixt the northernmost and southernmost states, he was the unenvied Head of the Army, and such was the magic of his name that his opinion was a sanction equal to law."

As Henrietta Liston suspected, and as Abigail Adams quickly learned, America found Washington's death unsettling. One of New York's great social reformers, Isabella Graham, chronicled the impact to her brother abroad: "The city, indeed the United States, have been swallowed up in the loss of Washington," Graham wrote soon after the official day of mourning, February 22, Washington's birthday. By then in hundreds of cities the general had been praised in speech and song at ceremonies and commemorations. Nothing was too outlandish, too over-the-top for a country steeped in public shows of sorrow. Famed novelist Susanna Rowson, always ready to draw attention to herself, composed one of many dirges droned out at the mock funerals:

For him the afflicted melts in woe,
For him the widow's tears will flow,
For him the orphan's prayer shall rise,
And waft his spirit to the skies.

Since no one had ever mourned an American head of state before, everyone was making up the rituals as they went along, with Federalist politicians determined that they last as long as possible. One of those Federalists, Congressman Harrison Gray Otis, knowing that his wife Sally, home in Boston, would be dying to know every detail of what was happening in Philadelphia, described the official memorial service in a letter written from the chamber of the House of Representatives: "Before my eyes and in front of the speaker's chair lies a coffin covered with a black pall, bearing a military hat and sword," he told her. "In about one hour we shall march attended by the military in grand procession to the German Lutheran Church."

Years later John Adams admitted that there was more than a little politics underpinning the paeans: "Orations, prayers, sermons, mock funerals" were used by the extremists in Adams's own party, to promote Federalist issues and to "cast into the background and the shade all others who had been concerned in the service of their country in the Revolution." The hoopla might have gotten out of hand in Adams's view, but in fact he and his wife had set the tone for the marathon of mourning. As soon as the news reached the temporary capital and Abigail Adams saw the response: "All business in Congress has been suspended in great measure and a universal melancholy has pervaded all classes of people," she told her nephew . . .

Ladies of Liberty
The Women Who Shaped Our Nation
. Copyright © by Cokie Roberts. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments and Author's Note     xi
Introduction     xv
1797-1801: The Presidency of John and Abigail Adams     1
1801-1805: The First Term of Thomas Jefferson and the Ladies of the Place     64
1805-1809: The Second Term of Thomas Jefferson and Women Talking Politics     121
1809-1813: The First Term of James Madison and the Presidentess     183
1813-1817: The Second Term of James Madison and "The Bravest American Soldier"     247
1817-1825: The Presidency of James Monroe and Some Characters to Contemplate     323
Recipes     395
Cast of Characters     399
Notes     403
Photograph Credits     469
Index     471

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Ladies of Liberty 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
Merlellen More than 1 year ago
If one has ever listened to Cokie Roberts doing new commentary or reporting on ABC News, one will recognize her very knowledgeable yet witty voice in this book. She writes the way she talks, and I actually hear her voice in my head, as though she were reading this book to me. Ladies of Liberty concerns the women involved in the growing pains of this nation from the end of the 18th century through the first half of the 19th century. She includes letters and journal enteries of these ladies, interspursed with commentary from the men (usually the Founding Fathers) in their lives in telling their tales. It is astonishing to see through this writing how little has changed in the political and social atmosphere of Washington, D.C.,from then until now. It is also wonderful to see how women who couldn't even vote endevored to influence what was happening in the beginning years of the fledgling United States, and how forward thinking they were concerning the rights and welfare of women. Roberts includes stories about well-known women such as Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison, as well as lesser-known women such as Elizabeth Seton, Isabella Graham and Theodosia Burr Alston, just 3 of the many colorful characters to found in this book. The writing flows smoothly forward in history, which is hard to do when telling the stories of so many women in so many locations up and down the eastern seaboard, as well as such exotic locations in Europe as the court of Catharine the Great in Russia and Florence, Italy. If you are interested in women's history with a positive, yet realistic approach to how women lived and conducted themselves, read this book.
RebeccaGraf More than 1 year ago
Going through school and studying history, too many times you find yourself learning the same things over and over again. Only when you find a gifted teacher who likes to give out tidbits of information that is not in the summaries of historical events do you really get to know history and appreciate it. The same can be said for any historical book on the market. I have read several that revealed no more to me than I had learned twenty years earlier. Then there are the books that you could read over and over again. This is what I found in Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nationby Cokie Roberts. Mrs. Roberts has many years experience in the political world and took this to undertake the writing of Ladies of Liberty . When I first picked up this book, it was for the interesting title. Noticing who the author was kept me looking more at it. I originally thought it was going to just give me a more detailed look at the First Ladies of America. I discovered much more. If you want to truly know about the beginnings of America and what was going on in Washington, this is the book to read. It is through the social gatherings and the personal letters of the ladies of the New World that you learn what was really happening behind the historic events. The book begins not with the first president and his famous first lady. It begins with the Presidency of John Adams and his first lady, Abigail. In this first section you get introduced into more detail the first lady and all the women of Washington. How do they react to new arrivals in town? How do they feel regarding a new law or the social actions of others? All this is disclosed through personal letters and the interacting of the women and their husbands. As you go through the presidential terms ending with James Monroe, you learn who was really running the country. Though many have claimed that women have had no influence over the years as they were kept out of sight and out of mind, this books informs us how powerful these women really were. When Jefferson came into office, there was no first lady. His wife had died a few years before leaving him with two children to raise on his own. When he got into the White House (not called by that name at that time), he was not inclined toward parties and socializing. It did not take long for him to understand that the women of the new capital would not stand for it. The social gatherings where politics were really made were expected. Jefferson got a wake up call on the influence of the women of town and how much they could get accomplished. In reading, you will discover the bravery of women facing the British invading the capital. Learn how women banded together to help the poor and the orphans. Who started the Sunday School movement in America? Open the pages and find out. I was thrilled to read and re-read sections to gather information that was flowing forth. Mrs. Roberts does an excellent job of tying in the women of the period and showing the influence that they had upon the young country and how it affects us today. She even throws in a small section on recipes of dishes that could be found at a gathering of Dolley Madison's. Ladies of Liberty is a great historical read. Some sections are not light and might require a slower read since there is so much information to absorb. I highly recommend this book if you interested in early American history or even just the history of women in general.
kpet More than 1 year ago
A highly entertaining, and very informative look at some of our well-known, and not so well known, Founding ladies. Abagail Adams, Dolley Madison, and others, are discussed. What some of these women did, and went through, is amazing. Cokie Roberts has written a great history of the early US. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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