Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts makes for very good historical reading as long as you can peel off the layer of mockery she dishes all over the Founding Fathers. Ms. Roberts has done a lot of reading to bring us details about the wives and mothers of the Founding Fathers, but she presents it through her liberal lens and that is a pity.
Casting aspersions upon the heroic and the patriotic is not the way to go when you tell the stories of our Founding Mothers. Yes, women were lacking the vote and right to property back then. Yes, women were perpetually pregnant and barefooted in the kitchen. But why do you have to mock the men for it?
The men were the product of their era. Many of them came around on the issues of slavery and education for women during the years described by this book. Some even started wondering about the womanly vote. It all takes time. I take issue with Cokie Roberts’ history of the Founding Mothers because of the tone she takes towards the Founding Fathers.
Do you really have to tell us three times in the book that Alexander Hamilton was a womanizer and Martha Washington named her tomcat after him? Would one time not have been enough? Do you really have to throw sarcasm at Benjamin Franklin for being a pig – for a pig he was? Why can you not recount some of his good parts – for he had many? Why magnify the men’s defects and paint a picture of only their growth areas? What kind of history is this?
Ms. Roberts sounds like a feminista with a chip on her shoulder – someone who has not completely recovered from the gender war. I would like to reminder her, next time she rattles on about the wonderful, enlightened European nations, that Switzerland only got the vote for women in 1971. Wrap you mind around that historical fact, Ms. Roberts!
The other thing I did not appreciate in the book was the fact that she dropped editorial comments after reporting historical facts or after quoting from letters. When George Washington writes to a group of women to thank them for their welcome, and says he would never forget the image of their angelic presence (they were all dressed in white), Ms. Roberts writes, “I bet not.” How does she know that Washington did not mean what he wrote? How does she know that Washington eventually forgot that mental image he promised not to? And who cares about Ms. Roberts’ sentiments on the matter? Why can’t she just be a historian and let us have the fact and the fact only? We do not want to know her opinion about historical facts.
When Washington refuses to give advice to this or that widow whether she should marry a particular suitor, Ms. Roberts mocks him that he would not meddle in matrimonial concerns. “Just in rebellions,” she quips. Yes, the man was a war hero and a general of the American army. Do you have a problem with that? He had his boundaries in terms of where he would spread his advice and his time. Why do you have to mock him for being focused on his job?
Her cynicism ruins in us a sense of the heroism of the Founding Fathers – these men were heroes and no, heroes are not perfect. But they inspire us. And if you come and tell us all about their growth areas, we run the risk of not being inspired anymore. All of the sudden, we have nobody to look up to and we are all traitors in a subtle way.
We reject our country because 18th century men did not give women equal rights. That’s like rejecting Ancient Rome for not having steam engines. The time had not come for that in the evolution of the world. Let’s admire Ancient Rome for what it did contribute to this world and learn from its mistakes. Let’s not mock their soldiers for walking around in sandals and little red skirts.
Did you know that after the 2015 terrorist attacks in France some historians came out and said the young men who blew themselves up went through French schools where they got taught all about the bad things France did to other nations and nothing of the positive things France brought to the world? No wonder they had no problem killing French people.
How do we teach history in our schools today? Make no mistake about it, history is a very politicized subject in public schools. Ten years after the publication of this book, Cokie Roberts re-packaged it as a history reader and picture book for middle schoolers. Her marketing also includes the hint that it is “common-core aligned.” Perfect for today’s classrooms. Not for my kids. Sorry.
Alas, in adopting this tone in her book, Cokie Roberts simply brings to life the principles of modern public education advocated by John Dewey, the father of American progressive education: “Education has … to undermind and destroy the accumulated and self-perpetuating prejudices of long ages.” In the words of Anthony Esolen, “Whatever region of the heart beats warm with piety, we want to still it.” By the way, this is one of ten ways to destroy the imagination of a child.
I do feel for the women of previous centuries who were perpetually pregnant, nursing. I hate to think what it must have been like to cook over an open fire and to not be able to hold property. I know they had it tough. The book gives you a whole new appreciation for modern conveniences and laws.
Yes, John Adams offered Abigail the age old put down of “you gals don’t need more power because you already have all the power over your men and we don’t do anything without your permission;” Jefferson frolicked in Paris with a married woman (he was a widower by then) and was an extremely lousy father; George Washington just could not win with the women on several occasions etc etc.
Even if these things are true, if that is the only thing you bring up about these men, what kind of history do you teach? A politicized history. The kind of history that brainwashes kids and especially women for the Democratic Party’s agenda.
I will get off my soap box now. If you want to read the book, consider yourself forewarned.