Book Club: Founding Mothers

Book Club with Lori

I can’t believe it’s June already!! But alas, alack, it is, and the beginning of the month means another Book Club post. This time, the book is Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts. This book tells the stories of the women behind the men during the American Revolution.

As with all book club posts, a spoiler alert is in affect (although with a book like this, historical non-fiction, there’s not much to spoil unless you aren’t familiar with American history).

There are more questions in the discussion guide than I’m answering today. If you read Founding Mothers, I encourage you to look over them all and work through the questions on your own.

1. What inspired you to read Founding Mothers? Why do you suppose the contributions of women in the Revolutionary era have been largely overlooked by historians? Would the founding of the nation have occurred without these women?

I would never have chosen to read this book on my own (I’m typically a fiction type of girl). Thanks to my friend and co-host, Lori, I was challenged to read this book for our virtual book club.

I think there are a few reasons that the contributions of women in the Revolutionary War era have been overlooked. First (and while this may end up sounding sexist, that’s not my intention; it’s just true), the very fact that they were women during an era when men were running the show caused them to be “forgotten.” Second, as Ms. Roberts points out several times in the book, a lot of these women didn’t leave behind any information about themselves. There’s very little to go on in writing about their history.

Would the founding of America happened without them? Of course. While marriages are important, they’re not vital. (And I don’t mean that in the context of casual relationships; I mean it as marriage vs. no marriage.) The founding fathers would have been just as able to get done what they needed done even if they’d all been single. Would the nation be the same one it is today without the women? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t exist at all.

2. Which woman would you say had the single greatest impact during the Revolution? How about during the first years of the new government?

This is a tricky one, but I’m tempted to say Martha Washington for both. She was the wife of our first official president, so that makes her a vital part of everything that happened during the time period.

3. Despite a lack of legal and social rights, including the right to own property and receive a formal education, how did the women presented in Founding Mothers assert their authority and exercise their intelligence?

This was probably one of the most fascinating things to read in this book… I don’t think it’s really any secret that women were essentially considered second-class citizens at the time of the American Revolution. The women in the book, however, were well respected by their husbands (or fathers in some cases), and therefore they (the men) treated these women well. They trusted their wives to “hold down the fort” while they were off dealing with war and/or government issues, and the wives proved themselves more than capable.

4. How did life differ for women depending on where they lived—the North versus the South, the city versus rural areas? How else did geographical circumstances impact their lives?

Geography impacted their lives a great deal, just as it impacts us today. Farmers live a very different life than suburban dwellers. The same was true in the early days of our nation. The women who lived on farms and plantations had considerably more work to get done each day. The women who lived in cities were instrumental in helping their husbands in the early days of the revolution (i.e. helping with the boycott on British goods). Each played an important, though different, role.

5. Cokie Roberts intersperses her thoughts and commentary throughout the book. Does this enhance the narrative? In what ways?

On one hand, I think it’s important that Ms. Roberts included her own thoughts in the narrative of the histories. Without it, she’d be more an “information transferrer” (that’s not really a word, but it gets my point across better than any real word I can think of) than an author writing about the time period.

On the other hand, I frequently found her commentary distracting and found it to be more problematic than helpful. But that could just be me, so I’m not prepared to say that her inclusion of it was a bad thing.


Next month, Lori and I will be discussing Courage and Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson. I haven’t picked it up from the library yet, but I’m very fascinated by the WWII era, and the subtitle definitely piques my interest. I’m really looking forward to diving into this book.

Please be sure to visit Lori’s blog today to read her thoughts on Founding Mothers.

If you’re participating in the Book Club with us, we’d love it if you included the Book Club button on your post.

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One Comment

  1. Hope the challenge was enjoyable. I enjoy non-fiction and this one was still a tough one to read. But, I am glad I did. Definitely gives quite a different light to the founding of our nation. She seems to have done a good bit of research so I am inclined to believe that she knew what she was writing about and it definitely changed my perspective on some parts of the founding of our country and the men who played significant roles in it.

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