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BookMark: Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts


I teach social studies to future teachers at Penn State’s College of Education.  Most of the time, I’m filled with hope for the future of education because of my students’ intelligence, energy, ingenuity and creativity. Yet, there’s one thing that saddens me at the start of every semester--how few famous women my students recall from their schooling. The new book by Cokie Roberts, Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies, highlights 10 woman patriots of the American Revolution. It might just be the antidote for our youth’s gaping lack of knowledge. In the form of a picture book, Roberts provides a platform for children to learn about the significant women in our nation’s history.

Founding Mothers is full of familiar as well as lesser-known stories. You may have once learned that Martha Washington spent a long cold winter caring for the troops in Valley Forge, but did you know that Eliza Lucas Pinckney grew the indigo used for the soldier’s blue suits in the three plantations she owned? She also set up a school for slaves.

You’ll also discover that even though Deborah Read Franklin’s husband Benjamin Franklin was named the first postmaster general of the U.S., she was the true Postmaster as Benjamin was out of the country for years. The book tells of many American women whose powerful husbands could not have done their jobs without their wives—Woodrow Wilson had a massive stroke while he was president and his wife, Edith, never let the public know how ill he was.  She largely kept the country running.

Most importantly, this is not just a book about the white women in our history. For instance, Roberts tells the story of Phillis Wheatley, who was raised as a slave and taught to read and write.  Her poetry became famous, even in England. Wheatley was just one of the many women who were influential through their writing.

If I have any complaints, it’s that I was left wondering how we could better frame Native American women as the true founders of this nation. It makes me wish Roberts would write another book, one that’s not limited to the time of the American Revolution.

Founding Mothers is based on Roberts’ acclaimed work for adults with the same title.  It’s clear she’s done extensive research.  She compiles details from letters, private journals, lists, and ledgers in order to tell these notable women’s stories. Also well-researched are the illustrations—Diane Goode’s intricate watercolor depictions of the women’s attire as well as her expert rendering of the women’s handwriting are among my favorites aspects of the book.

Abigail Adam’s famous line “remember the ladies” has indeed echoed throughout history. This book strengthens the sound of those echoes, making us remember the power of an educated woman who is also a dedicated citizen.

I recommend this picture book for children as young seven but really, anyone could read this and learn something new.  This book is sure to become part of my teaching curriculum.  And I trust my students will, in turn, remember the women in this book when they have classrooms of their own.

- Our reviewer is Stephanie Serriere. She is an assistant professor of elementary social studies in the Childhood and Early Adolescent program at Penn State.

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