5 things Cokie Roberts wanted you to know about women in U.S. history

“It’s important for girls—and boys—growing up to see the contributions of women to the founding of the country and the maintenance of the Republic.”

5 things Cokie Roberts wanted you to know about women in U.S. history

Legendary journalist Cokie Roberts died this week due to complications from breast cancer, NPR reports. She was 75 years old.

Roberts made a huge impact on America and will not be forgotten. The Emmy Award-winning broadcaster made her mark in journalism at a time when it was difficult for women to be taken seriously in the space. She was a pioneer who remembered the pioneering women who came before her.

As a historian and prolific writer who authored several bestselling works on the role of American women in U.S. history, including "Capital Dames," "Founding Mothers" and "Ladies of Liberty", Roberts was dedicated to reminding the public of the crucial role of American women in U.S. history.

Back in 2015, Roberts talked to Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety about what modern mothers should know about the amazing women who preceded them.

This is what she wanted us to know.


Excerpted from that interview with Roberts are five things to know about the history of American women:


1. History is inaccurate without the stories of women

Cokie Roberts: “I care about history. And I think that history is distorted and downright inaccurate if you only cover half of the human race. Telling the full story is very important. But also, it's important for girls—and boys—growing up to see the contributions of women to the founding of the country and the maintenance of the Republic."

2. America had “Founding Mothers," too

Women like Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison were the spouses of major political leaders, but also played very active roles politically. Abigail Adams, for example, famously exhorted her husband John Adams to “remember the ladies" when he was writing the founding documents of the United States. Martha Washington, wife of America's first president, spent time during the Revolutionary War in the bitterly cold warfront encampments with American soldiers, rallying the troops. First Lady Dolly Madison saved precious artifacts from the White House while it burned during the War of 1812.

“These women were particularly sensitive," to the idea of liberty, Roberts explains. “I think that part of it was that they wanted some liberty. Married women were the property of their husbands. They could own no property. The very jewelry and clothes on their bodies belonged to their husband. So I think there was some sense of that. But I also just think that they were caught up in the cause."

Roberts, also adds several other names to the list of Founding Mothers: “Women like Mercy Otis Warren, a great propagandist. Esther Reed, who in the middle of the Revolutionary War when the French had not yet arrived, and soldiers were threatening desertion by regiment because they were not paid or fed or housed, she organized a fundraising drive for the troops. The women of Philadelphia, in the space of a couple of weeks raised $300,000."

3. The American Revolution resulted in girls and women accessing better educations

“There's this concept of 'Republican Motherhood,'" Roberts explains. “America was an experiment. After the Revolutionary War was won, then there was this country to raise. The [political class] kind of looked around and said, 'Now what do we do?' They realized that this experiment in self-government would require the participation of virtuous citizens. Then the question was, well, where do you get virtuous citizens? Somebody has to raise them. Wait, that would be a mother!

“So this concept of Republican Motherhood was born. That was very, very useful for women in America. Because if you were going to be a woman who raised a virtuous son you had to be educated. So that's where, after the war, women's education just took off. They were to educate their sons to turn them into good citizens who could govern the country, because self-government was this experiment that was taking place. Now, of course, the effect of that was to make the women more and more involved themselves."

4. We should remember what earlier generations of women endured

Cokie Roberts: “In terms of today's mothers, to take a look at what the lives of these women were like makes you feel a whole lot better about your own life. . . What life was like just to get through a day in the 18th and early 19th centuries was really, really hard. Here were these people who were raising families and having to go through all of the just difficulties of living a life without any modern conveniences.

“Think about their lives: Just imagine there's no running water. There's no electricity. There's nothing that you just take totally for granted happening in their lives. So you're going to the well for water. You are lighting candles to try to see by. So you're living pretty much by the sun. But on the other hand, they would light those candles and sit up at night after the children were asleep, to write to their husbands or friends about what they thought was terribly important in terms of the nation.

“In terms of having children, there was no birth control, so the likelihood is that you were pregnant every couple of years. The danger of death in childbirth was enormously high. The danger of losing the baby was enormously high.

“So their lives were very, very difficult lives. Just think about everything you take for granted, and assume that doesn't exist.

“But even with all of that, their passion for independence was tremendous."

5. Women's history in America is still unfolding

"A friend of mine's mother, who is age 101, recently said she wants to stay alive long enough to vote for Hillary Clinton, because she really, really wants to see a woman president.

This woman was born before women were granted the right to vote in America. To her, this is just, it's the most exciting notion, that it's worth staying alive for."

Roberts did not live to see a woman as president, but her work lives on and reminds us that it is possible.

[This post was originally published November 19, 2015. It has been updated.]

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