Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies
by Cokie Roberts
illustrated by Diane Goode
review copy provided by the publisher
In 2005, NPR political commentator Cokie Roberts wrote a 384 page adult book, Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation This picture book version of her work gives ten famous (and not so famous) women a double-page spread, and highlights Women Writers and Women Warriors with paragraph-length blurbs. The ten ladies are Eliza Lucas Pinckney, who at 19, while running three large plantations while her father fought for England against Spain, succeeded in raising indigo for the first time; Deborah Read Franklin, Ben's wife, who ran all his businesses in the States while he was in England; Mercy Otis Warren, an influential writer; Phillis Wheatley, a poet and a slave; Abigail Adams, letter-writing wife of John; Martha Washington, who spent every winter of the eight years of the Revolutionary War in military camps with husband George; Esther DeBerdt Reed, writer and fundraiser for the Revolutionary War effort; Sarah Livingston Jay, wife of John Jay; Catharine Littlefield Greene, wife of General Nathaniel Greene who, when running the plantation after his death, helped Eli Whitney with his cotton gin invention; and Dolley Madison, brave wife of James.
As the review in the New York Times points out, this book would be a whole lot more useful with a table of contents and a more discernible organization.
That criticism aside, this book provides some nice short texts about historic women. I can imagine students being charged with placing each woman on a continuum of influence, based on the information given by Roberts in the text, and arguing for their placements. I can imagine students choosing a woman to research in more detail, and then debating with another student about whose woman was the most influential. Even just the conversation about what makes a person influential would be fascinating, as would a discussion of the problem of how to know historic women deeply when they often did not leave a trail of primary source material for historians to study.
This book would also be fascinating to use in a study of the art of calligraphy. Diane Goode's pen and sepia ink illustrations in the style of the period, and her reproductions of each woman's signature made me want to get out my pen nibs and resurrect the skill I learned in high school art class.