Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation

Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation

by Cokie Roberts

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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 to 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 Adams. 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 the 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 favored 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061867460
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/14/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 87,228
File size: 787 KB

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.

Read an Excerpt

Founding Mothers
The Women Who Raised Our Nation

Chapter One

Before 1775:
The Road to Revolution

Stirrings of Discontent

When you hear of a family with two brothers who fought heroically in the Revolutionary War, served their state in high office, and emerged as key figures in the new American nation, don't you immediately think, "They must have had a remarkable mother"? And so Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Thomas Pinckney did. Today Eliza Lucas Pinckney would be the subject of talkshow gabfests and made-for-TV movies, a child prodigy turned into a celebrity. In the eighteenth century she was seen as just a considerate young woman performing her duty, with maybe a bit too much brainpower for her own good.

George Lucas brought his English wife and daughters to South Carolina in 1734 to claim three plantations left to him by his father. Before long, however, Lucas left for Antigua to rejoin his regiment in fighting the war against Spain, leaving his sixteen-year-old daughter in charge of all the properties, plus her ailing mother and toddler sister. (The Lucas sons were at school in England.) Can you imagine a sixteen-year-old girl today being handed those responsibilities? Eliza Lucas willingly took them on. Because she reported to her father on her management decisions and developed the habit of copying her letters, Eliza's writings are some of the few from colonial women that have survived.

The South Carolina Low Country, where Eliza was left to fend for the family, was known for its abundance of rice and mosquitoes. Rice supported the plantation owners and their hundreds of slaves; mosquitoes sent the owners into Charleston (then Charles Town) for summer months of social activities. Though Wappoo Plantation, the Lucas home, was only six miles from the city by water, seventeen by land, Eliza was far too busy, and far too interested in her agricultural experiments, to enjoy the luxuries of the city during the planting months.

The decision about where to live was entirely hers (again, can you imagine leaving that kind of decision to a sixteen-year-old?), as Eliza wrote to a friend in England in 1740: "My Papa and Mama's great indulgence to me leaves it to me to choose our place of residence either in town or country." She went on to describe her arduous life: "I have the business of three plantations to transact, which requires much writing and more business and fatigue of other sorts than you can imagine. But least you should imagine it too burdensome to a girl at my early time of life, give me leave to answer you: I assure you I think myself happy that I can be useful to so good a father, and by rising very early I find I can go through much business." And she did. Not only did she oversee the planting and harvesting of the crops on the plantations, but she also taught her sister and some of the slave children, pursued her own intellectual education in French and English, and even took to lawyering to help poor neighbors. Eliza seemed to know that her legal activities were a bit over the line, as she told a friend: "If you will not laugh immoderately at me I'll trust you with a secret. I have made two wills already." She then defended herself, explaining that she'd studied carefully what was required in will making, adding: "After all what can I do if a poor creature lies a dying and their family taken it into their head that I can serve them. I can't refuse; but when they are well and able to employ a lawyer, I always shall." The teenager had clearly made quite an impression in the Low Country.

The Lucases were land-rich but cash-poor, so Eliza's father scouted out some wealthy prospects as husband material for his delightful daughter. The young woman was having none of it. Her father's attempts to marry her off to a man who could help pay the mortgage were completely and charmingly rebuffed in a letter written when she was eighteen. "As you propose Mr. L. to me, I am sorry I can't have sentiments favorable enough of him to take time to think on the subject ... and beg leave to say to you that the riches of Peru and Chile if he had them put together could not purchase a sufficient esteem for him to make him my husband." So much for her father's plan to bring some money into the family. She then dismissed another suggestion for a mate: "I have so slight a knowledge of him I can form no judgment of him." Eliza insisted that "a single life is my only choice ... as I am yet but eighteen." Of course, many women her age were married, and few would have brushed off their fathers so emphatically, but the feisty Miss Lucas was, despite the workload, having too much fun to settle down with some rich old coot.

Eliza loved "the vegetable world," as she put it, and experimented with different kinds of crops, always with a mind toward commerce. She was keenly aware that the only cash crop South Carolina exported to England was rice, and she was determined to find something else to bring currency into the colony and to make the plantations profitable. When she was nineteen, she wrote that she had planted a large fig orchard "with design to dry and export them." She was always on the lookout for something that would grow well in the southern soil. Reading her Virgil,she was happily surprised to find herself "instructed in agriculture ... for I am persuaded though he wrote in and for Italy, it will in many instances suit Carolina."

By her own account, Eliza was always cooking up schemes. She wrote to her friend Mary Bartlett: "I am making a large plantation of oaks which I look upon as my own property, whether my father gives me the land or not."

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

Reading Group Guide


"While the men were busy founding the nation, what were the women up to?" Cokie Roberts answers this question in Founding Mothers, a revealing and remarkable book that chronicles the American Revolution through the eyes of its unsung heroes.

They were wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters. They were patriots, politicians, and philosophers. Though their signatures don't appear on the Declaration of Independence, their influence on the founding of the nation was as instrumental as that of the men whose names are inked in history.

From Abigail Adams and Martha Washington to lesser-known figures like Catharine Littlefield Greene and Sally Livingston Jay, Roberts unfolds the stories of our Founding Mothers -- the women who tended home and hearth often under dire circumstances, ran farms and businesses, fought on the front lines of battle, wrote propaganda that called a nation to arms, acted as spies, and raised money for the troops. In many instances, their political and social sentiments proved more insightful than those of the men in the Continental Congress.

In Founding Mothers, Roberts gives voice to women who faced an uncertain future, believed in the revolutionary concept of a democratic society, and offered a steady hand to guide the fledgling nation. She weaves together anecdotes, diary excerpts, and correspondence; draws on military records, newspaper accounts, songs, and poetry; and intersperses her own insightful commentary throughout.

In a letter to her husband, Abigail Adams pondered whether future generations would care about the personal sacrifices they and others had made on behalf of the nation. "Posterity who are to reap the blessings," she wrote, "will scarcely be able to conceive the hardships and sufferings of their ancestors." More than two hundred years after she penned these words, Founding Mothers makes it clear that the nation we know today would not exist without the bravery, foresight, and steadfastness of Abigail Adams and her compatriots. These are the women who raised our nation.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What inspired you to read Founding Mothers? Why do you suppose the contributions of women in the Revolutionary era have been largely overlooked by historians? Would the founding of the nation have occurred without these women?

  2. Which woman would you say had the single greatest impact during the Revolution? How about during the first years of the new government?

  3. Despite a lack of legal and social rights, including the right to own property and receive a formal education, how did the women presented in Founding Mothers assert their authority and exercise their intelligence?

  4. How did life differ for women depending on where they lived—the North versus the South, the city versus rural areas? How else did geographical circumstances impact their lives?

  5. Women often accompanied their husbands to army camps during the war, including Martha Washington, Kitty Greene, and Lucy Knox. Were you surprised they chose to do this? How did these three women in particular contribute to the often harsh life of a military camp and foster the war efforts?

  6. By telling the stories of our Founding Mothers, this book also sheds light on the men of the time. Did you learn anything new about these men, including Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton, seeing them from the perspective of their female contemporaries?

  7. How important was the "civilizing" role that women played in the years leading up to, during, and after the Revolution? Can you reference examples from the book that show how integral it was for the women to be able to step in and "calm down the men," or even to act as intermediaries, as Abigail Adams did in the dispute between her husband and James Madison?

  8. Catharine Macaulay supported the American Revolution and was a vocal proponent of democratic governments in general. Why did Macaulay, an Englishwoman, take such an interest in the American cause? How did she contribute to it?

  9. How did Martha Washington define the role of First Lady? Are her influences still evident today? Her political savvy was remarkable, but is there anything that can be learned from Martha Washington on a personal level?

  10. Only a limited number of women could have accomplished what Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren did -- those who had access to the men shaping the future of the nation. What about the women who didn't have the advantage of providing direct counsel or publishing their discourses? How did they contribute to the Revolutionary War and the founding of the nation?

  11. Cokie Roberts intersperses her thoughts and commentary throughout the book. Does this enhance the narrative? In what ways?

About the Author

Cokie Roberts, author of We Are Our Mothers' Daughters, is the political commentator for ABC News and serves as Senior News Analyst for National Public Radio. From 1996-2002 she and Sam Donaldson co-anchored the weekly ABC interview program This Week. Roberts co-authored From This Day Forward with her husband Steven V. Roberts, and together they write a weekly column syndicated in newspapers around the country by United Media and serve as contributing editors to USA Weekend.

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Founding Mothers 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 59 reviews.
ISU_paa More than 1 year ago
I read this book for a class assignment, and used the book to analyze leadership. Personally, I think that anyone who has an interest in U.S. History should read this book, if nothing else for the interesting historical facts. I really loved hearing about how John Edwards was related to Aaron Burr, the story surrounding Benedict Arnold's wife, and the correspondence between Martha Washington and Abigail Adams. I already had a pretty extensive knowledge of American History going into this book, and I still learned a lot from it. No one else talks about the stories surrounding the women behind the men we all have heard so much about, so it was nice to hear an alternative perspective. Unfortunately, the book was a slow read, and got monotonous at times. Cokie Roberts had a great idea to write the book, but as a previous post says, it was poorly executed. Her organization was poor to say the least. Also, she tended to go off on tangents which seemed to detract heavily from the important points of the book. If you're looking for an enjoyable, easy-read type of book, this one isn't for you. However, if you want to hear a new perspective on an old story, I would highly recommend giving this book a try. Like I said, as someone with a strong interest in history, I enjoyed the book, even though it was a bit of a task to actually read it.
LarisaB More than 1 year ago
I agree with some other reviewers: this book takes a topic that's not well understood and makes a unique approach, but is poorly written and organized. I understand the desire to be engaging, but I think the material would have done that for itself, without side notes trying to draw modern comparisons or make jokes. Basing her research in women's letters, Roberts brings a whole world to life. However, she allows the relationships between women and the timeline to guide her writing, where in my opinion, a more scholarly approach -- perhaps by organizing it topically and drawing a few more conclusions -- would have been much stronger. In the end, I have a vivid picture of what women's lives were like, and what role they played in the early days of our country, but I'm not sure what to make of it, because it was all so scrambled. Still, when such things come up in conversation (which is sadly rare), it has a lot to offer in terms of interesting factoids.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a good book, but as one would expect, it is a bit politically correct for a book written about early America. Such are the times in which we live.
MainerMary More than 1 year ago
If you like history especially the early history of America, you'll like this book. I had previously listened to the "John Adams" audio disc. Hearing this history of the women who were a major part of the same era provided an interesting counterpart to that book. I find such audio books make history live in a way reading the book doesn't always do.
Karen127 More than 1 year ago
I am a devoit reader of books on the early years of this country and have especially loved Founding Brothers (Ellis), John Adams (McCullough)and Benjamin Franklin (Isaacson) as well as Ferlings Adams versus Jefferson. As a professional woman I looked forwaard to this book especially seeking a more detailed discussion of Abigail Adams, a most fascinating woman. I could not have been more disappointed. Ms. Robert's writing was simplistic, patronizing and written for the aforementioned 12 year old girl. Factually, it was not accurate (note to Cokie-there was no vice presidential candidate in either 1796 or 1800). Don't waste your time with this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading biographies on John Adams, Alexander Hamiltion, and George Washingion, I was really excited about reading about our founding mothers. This is one area that needs more research done on it. I bought the tapes, and started listening to the book, and became very disappointed. Ms. Roberts is not a historian, she is a reporter, and this shows in her book. Throughout the book she shares her opinions, and tries to be funny. Sometimes she makes statements that seem to be exaggerated. It seems that Ms. Roberts is just writing for women, by her comments. She should have had more confidence that this important topic, would be read by both females and males. Its obvious Ms. Roberts did her research, and many interesting stories are told in this book. I could not get past her bias and opinions in this book. It would be great if a real historian, like Doris Kearns Goodwin, tackled this subject matter.
priscella More than 1 year ago
Unfortunately I can only give this book of great effort three stars.  The reason is that when I got about two thirds of the book read I  bogged in politics and the Revalutionary war.  After a couple of days of that I decided to move on to something else I wanted to read. However, must say the stories and information on those women of that time was most enjoyable and inspiring.  I've asked myself could  woman today meet the same challenges?
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It made me think and laugh at the same time. Impressively researched, beautifully written; this does a lot of justice to the gene. Thank you Cokie!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully readable, yet satisfiyingly researched, history of the women who stood behind the men who made American history. Fascinating story and not 'feminist' at all; a great story for women, men and older children, and another example of how even the best-known historical events have many unexplored sides. (Haven't you ever wondered about Mrs. Einstein?) For a fascinating exploration of the opposite story--a man's view of fatherhood, marriage and staying home with the kids, I loved 'I Sleep At Red Lights: A True Story of Life After Triplets,' by Bruce Stockler.
Fernandame on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Audiobook - This was an interesting book with facts about the women behind our Founding Fathers.
cmbohn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
General Cornwallis of the British Army once lamented that even if he destroyed all the men in America, he'd still have the women to contend with. This book by Cokie Roberts profiles some of those amazing women of the Revolutionary era. Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Deborah Franklin, Mercy Otis Warren, Katy Green, and Eliza Pinckney are just a few of the women in this book.Pros: The women! I enjoyed learning about their lives and struggles.Lots of stuff I never heard before. History class tends to focus on the generals, the presidents, etc. But their wives and mothers were no less interesting, and in some cases, were even more influential.Cons: The format. Roberts uses a chronological format, which helps tie each woman into her place in history, and gives you a feel for how they are related to one another, but it got confusing and yes, boring at times. I mean, I know who won the war. It's the women I wanted to read about.Not enough pictures. In fact, the only pictures are one on the first page of each chapter. That's it. I wanted more.The writing itself. In some places, she let her own opinions come out, but not often enough. It was a little impersonal.Recommended for history buffs, especially female ones.
zellertr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very interesting. Who knew that the ladies of the Revolution raised monies for the soldiers and wanted to buy them nice things? General Washington still got his way on how the money was spent, but it was nice to know we have always been a generous country!
smclawler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I looked forward to reading this book, but I felt the arrangement of the information was disjointed and poorly organized.
MarthaHuntley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is well researched but is boring to read. I didn't feel like I learned very much from it.
mzonderm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting, though not particularly deep, look at the female relations of the men who get written about in the history books. Unfortunately, although Roberts makes much of the historical context when discussing how the women broke out of the mold, she does not give the historical context much thought when it comes to the men, leading her to be a bit harsh on the men sometimes.Perhaps a bit more problematic is that approximately the entire second half of the book is really the same story about the men that we already know, with just brief glimpses of the women. What are we supposed to take away from this? That there's only enough about the "Founding Mothers" to write half a book? Or that, in the end, as interesting as they were, it wasn't the women who made the history after all? Well, we probably already knew that. But this book does give a brief glimpse into the trials and tribulations of the women behind the men.
Angelic55blonde on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a great book about some of the founding mothers. There are many history books out there that focus on our founding fathers but nothing on the women. Women's history is fairly new (began in the 1970s) and this is a great addition. I have read some of this but plan to finish it in the future and thus far, I love it.
crmp6855 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm torn between this is terribly boring and it's also interesting. I'm falling asleep every time I pick it up. This is difficult to follow, it seems the information jumps around too much.
eduscapes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book provides an interesting look at the mothers of the founding fathers. Although poorly organized, the book provides insights into the lives of well-known as well as lesser-known women.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting and informative.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful nonfiction story about the women who helped shape our country.
Jan61JB More than 1 year ago
Cokie Roberts writing is impeccable. Interesting, exciting to think of our founding mothers. This is an excellent history of the founding of America and the part women played in it. The men were off here and there but women held down the country. Excellent!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tremendous! I wish I'd had it back when I was in school, history would have been so much easier for me! She did an amazing job of researching and pulling together everything into a true story of the time; I particularly loved the personal comments along the way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago