We took quite a different turn in the style of book this month, didn’t we?!? Non-fiction can be quite challenging, I’ll be the first to admit. But, it is a good stretch that I enjoy.
Cokie Roberts wrote Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation. It is a series of roughly chronological, anecdotal stories about the women who were related to or friends of the men who were important to the founding of the United States. This is not your typical American history study or biography. It is challenging and will challenge you from the actual reading to thinking through what you always thought you knew about the history of our country.
This was a very well written book featuring ladies such as Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Kitty Green, Eliza Pinckney, Mercy Warren, and many more. Through their letters and other correspondence, records kept while they ran the farms and estates, travel records, and other primary source documents, we get a very different feel for the Revolutionary War and how it just might have turned out. These ladies are fascinating. Don’t pass this one up but do be prepared to have to work a bit to read it. It is worth it!
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?
I enjoy reading non-fiction and have heard a lot about Cokie Roberts and the research she does on her books. When I walked past this one at the library, I grabbed it. It was definitely a challenge to read but worth the trouble. I think the women’s contributions of women in the Revolutionary era are not necessarily overlooked but they are not as prominent. Personally, I think the reason is that their contributions are not directly related to the decision making and the battle fields. With the time crunch that is found in all areas of education, whether public school or home educated, it is hard to fit in everything. Sometimes, you have to cut something in order to get through stuff. This is just one of those places where they don’t necessarily have the time to cover every single thing they might want to. As for the importance of the women’s contribution, I don’t know. It is impossible to say if they were the glue that held the men’s discussions together or not. I do know that they had very important places of encouragement for their men and that does make all the difference.
2. Which woman would you say had the single greatest impact during the Revolution? How about during the first years of the new government?
Impossible to answer! So much encouragement, spirit raising, nursing, and more went on that I don’t know that there is a single lady whose actions were more important than others. They also had such a great strength with each other that it is all kind of overlapping.
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?
Many of these women acted because they had to, not because they were rebelling against the rules or regulations. With their husbands out-of-pocket with their responsibilities, sometimes for 9 years, they had to buy, sell, raise children, give birth, bury children, handle plantations, keep out of the way of the war, and so much more. Yet, through it all, they show their strength and independence by submitting where it was needed and standing up when it was necessary.
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?
City life was probably easier than rural life. Rural life would have been harder in terms of having to keep up the home and lands. The social lives of the women was definitely different. It seems as thought the ladies of the North were not quite so isolated as those of the South. The ladies of the South seemed to have more property and lands to keep up with and take care.
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?
This was one of the most fascinating parts of the book to me, every time it came up. I had absolutely no idea the impact these ladies had, not only on their husbands and the encouragement of those men, but on the every day solider who had it so rough. Especially Martha Washington seemed to make a huge difference. The way this book makes it sound, without these ladies coming to camp in the winder, especially, there would not have been an army left. Their encouragement, kindness, and recognition of the soliders was important to the outcome of the war. Their dinner parties, entertainment, nursing care, and provisions of food, clothing, blankets, and more were so generous and unselfish.
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?
This book really made these men seem much less capable than I had believed. I don’t know if that was intentional or not. Especially Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton were made to seen as though they were not nice men and didn’t really care all that much about the “greater good.”
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?
I dislike this questions as it seems to imply that there was a need for people to be managed and “civilized.” I think the ladies played huge roles in supporting, encouraging, and advising the men. Their knowledge and the men’s knowledge that the ladies were trying to help them was really key.
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?
Her encouragement, clarification of ideas, and general support seem to have been helpful for the ladies and men who she corresponded with.
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?
Martha Washington was an elegant lady who did her best to be a light and encouragement to those who were looking for her lead. She definitely created expectations and influences that are in effect today, such as the elegance and reception. I really admire the way in which she charged forward in all she did, with her husband, his needs and responsibilities in the forefront of her mind, guiding her decisions.
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?
The ladies who did not have the opportunity for direct counsel during the founding of the nation made differences in many other ways – such as giving up things of comfort, working hard on the home front so the men were freed of those responsibilities, bringing up the children, running the farms, and so much more. Their day-to-day lives were just as important to the success of the Revolution as were the direct counsel given by other ladies.
11. Cokie Roberts intersperses her thoughts and commentary throughout the book. Does this enhance the narrative? In what ways?
I think it did. I helps keep our minds on the fact that things in our current society are still related to the things of then. The short statements quickly change the feel of the narrative but it comes back to its norm quickly. It is interesting to get a peek into the thoughts of the writer in relation to the folks she is writing about.
This book was an impulse pick up at the library. I’m glad I did, even though it took me quite a while to drag my way through it. It was good, challenged my reading ability AND my knowledge of the Revolution, including the times before and after the war itself.
Go check out Wendy’s post and see what she thought of this book over at Ladybug Daydreams. If you read along this month, please share your thoughts about the book in the comments section. I’d love to hear what you thought about this one.
Next month’s selection is going to be non-fiction as well – Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors In World War II Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson. It is also about a war-time. However, this one is about the covert operations surrounding the people of Denmark during World War II. Our family has been studying WWII off and on all school year and have been fascinated by it. When I stumbled across this one at a store a while back, I decided to see if the library had it. They did! I found it in the Youth Non-fiction section, just a side-note to help finding it. So far, this one has been lots easier to read. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I am.