cover image Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation

Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation

Cokie Roberts. Morrow, $26.95 (481pp) ISBN 978-0-06-078234-4

In this entertaining follow-up to 2004's Founding Mothers: The Women who Raised Our Nation, Roberts recounts the lives of first ladies, and their associates, from the John and Abigail Adams White House up through Monroe's 1818-1825 term. Though it's well known women at the time couldn't vote or own property, it's surprising how respected, and influential, Roberts's subjects were. As sitting President, Thomas Jefferson ""urged all the 'heads of departments' in Washington"" to read Mercy Warren's history of the American Revolution, which prompted Alexander Hamilton to declare, ""female genius in the United States has outstripped the male."" Other intriguing figures include Louisa Catherine Adams, wife to John Quincy, whose story takes her into the court-life of Russia and Austria; the sociable Dolley Payne Madison, known affectionately as ""Queen Dolley""; Elizabeth Monroe, a staid (and sickly) return to formality; and a host of children, acquaintances, advisors and socialites (including Federalist Rosalie Stier Calvert and Republican Margaret Bayard Smith, whose letters ""often read as a political point counterpoint"").While Roberts' aim is to see the period from her subjects' point of view, she is not uncritical; for instance, Roberts casts blame on Mrs. Adams's uncompromising partisanship ""in the undoing of her husband."" With a little-seen perspective and fascinating insight into the culture of the day, this is popular history done right.