Cokie Roberts told us about Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation back at the American Library Association in New Orleans in 2006. At that point her new book was only an idea, but she had her stories and publishing date, which she met. As a reader who enjoys history, I am glad to have now gotten my hands on the library's audio copy, which Roberts reads herself.
Ladies of Liberty continues the story of Founding Mothers: Women Who Raised the Nation, which tells about leading women during the American Revolution through the writing of the Constitution and to the presidential administration of George Washington. Ladies of Liberty takes us through the presidencies of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe to the inaugural ball for John Quincy Adams. While there is an emphasis on the women in the White House, the book weaves in stories of other U. S. women, including Rebecca Gratz who founded many of the educational and charitable organizations in Philadelphia and Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded benevolent societies, schools, and the first American order of Catholic nuns.
Louisa Adams may have been my favorite woman in the book. She had to have great strength of character to join the Adams family as wife of John Quincy Adams. He was always a loving but difficult man who might go away to distant lands for years (and Louisa sometimes followed). In his absence, she had to deal with her strong-willed mother-in-law Abigail Adams. Abigail at first disliked Louisa for having been born in London of a British mother and American father, making her not completely American. In time, Louisa won her over by showing her devotion to husband and country. One of the best stories in the book is about Louisa's forty-day journey across Europe (St. Petersburg to Paris) during the Napoleonic Wars. With cunning and a bit of deceit, she was able to avoid being taken prisoner by rival factions. Louisa also stood up for Elizabeth Monroe who offended Washington society by not attending every social function.
I also liked Sacajawea who saved the lives of the men of the Lewis and Clark expedition countless times. She had more knowledge of the land and sense than her traveling companions, and her advice kept them on the right path. She knew where to find food and braved rapids to save drowning men. Just her presence with the men told the tribes of the West that the explorers were not a war party and kept them from being attacked.
Ladies of Liberty is a very entertaining look at history. Roberts loves telling about the times when women prove essential to international affairs, as in the time Thomas Jefferson turned to his granddaughter to translate an important Spanish diplomatic letter. Libraries should have plenty of copies now and keep some for many years.
Roberts, Cokie. Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation. William Morrow, 2008. ISBN 9780060782344
8 discs. Harper Audio, 2008. ISBN 9780061227257