Cokie Roberts talks ‘Ladies of Liberty’
August 1, 2008
ASPEN ” When she realized how much she knew about America’s founding fathers, Cokie Roberts discovered she knew little about their wives and other women from the Revolutionary era, she told a capacity audience Wednesday at the Aspen Institute.
An Emmy Award winner and bestselling author, Roberts said that revelation inspired her to craft “Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Lives,” a follow-up to her 2004 national bestseller “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation.”
“I realized I was ignorant about women of this period,” Roberts said. “I knew those women were at least as influential as my mother and [the women of her time].”
She likened researching the founding fathers’ wives to doing detective work.
“As a result of spending all this time with these women,” she said, “I sat down and did the hard work of writing about them.”
Roberts opened up the event, held at Paepcke Auditorium, by telling how she came to be the first woman at an Aspen seminar. Her husband and fellow journalist, Steven V. Roberts, was facilitating the event. Roberts said she and the other women sat in the rafters, needle pointing as the men took part in the discussions.
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“Now I’m a good needle pointer,” joked Roberts. “But it was insulting. Not to put too fine a point on it.”
Roberts said that after she convinced the men that having a “women’s day” was not the point, the men agreed to allow the women to participate “just this once.”
Roberts also talked about her childhood as the daughter of two political figures.
After her father, U.S. Rep. Hale Boggs, died in a plane crash in 1972, Roberts’ mother, Lindy, took his place in U.S. Congress, where she became the first woman representative from Louisiana.
“Because I grew up with women in politics,” Roberts said, “I knew how incredibly powerful they were.”
Roberts laughed as she recalled what Lady Bird Johnson told her mother when she announced she was going to run for Congress.
“That is great,” the first lady said. “But how are you going to do it without a wife?”
Roberts said “Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Lives” is unique because it allows readers to get to know men in a different light because men are more open with their wives.
A great example of this, she said, is a letter that John Marshall wrote to his wife after he discovered he had forgotten to pack britches.
“What was he wearing?” joked Roberts. “I swear I can’t look at him anymore.”
While the focus of the book is on the political wives, Roberts said she purposely added a subtitle that is inclusive to all women of the period.
“The book is not just about political women,” said Roberts, “but educators and writers and reformers who helped design a social safety net.”
She ended the event by answering questions from the audience. Along with several questions about today’s media, Roberts offered a succinct answer to a question about what women could learn from the book.
“We are sissies,” she deadpanned.