Cokie Roberts is the author of more than half a dozen books about American history, with two adapted for younger readers. The young reader's edition “Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation,” illustrated by previous collaborator Diane Goode, is to be released by HarperCollins Publishers on December 6. Roberts, is a well-known journalist and commentator for NPR and ABC News, and was named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2008. Roberts was kind enough to let me interview her about her new book, what it means to her and what she hopes it does for her youngest fans.

Thank you for taking time to speak with me today. Your book, “Ladies of Liberty” covers the influential women of America from the late 1790s to the late 1820s. How did you decide on this time period?

So this is a sequel to “Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies,” which covered the time leading up to the Revolution and to the inauguration of the second President of the United States. This book is literally the next generation of women. “Ladies of Liberty” goes from [Presidents] John Adams to John Quincy Adams. To me, this is what I consider to be the rest of the story of influential women early in our history.

How did you cull the information from the original 500 page book and boil it down to a book for young readers?

Now that is very interesting. One of the things that does make it easier is being a broadcaster, because I am used to writing short pieces and knowing how to get a lot of information into a short period of time. We did try to diversify it to get women of different ethnicities, but also women from different parts of the country to some degree. And then because the wives of the Presidents were in “Founding Mothers,” we included the wives of the Presidents from this period as well.

Who among the featured ladies did you find the most interesting and inspiring?

Well they are all so different from one another, but look at Sacagawea. She was about 15, just a kid really, and what she did was remarkable. She not only trekked over the mountain with a baby, but she was the only woman with all these men. She was so intrepid and we really don't even know what happened to her. Isabella Graham is another remarkable story. She founded more institutions to help the downtrodden than you can possibly imagine. And her school, Graham Windham in New York, is still in existence today. Think about it, these women had to do this work with no political rights and no legal rights and they did it. These women wove a social safety net when nobody else was doing it and they were doing it against all odds. They lobbied like crazy, but they had to do it out of sheer will of force … so I admire them tremendously.

Who are some other women that you were pleased to be able to write about?

I hadn't heard of Lucy Terry Prince until I started writing the original book, and she was the first African-American poet. She lived a long life; she lived to be 97. And Eliza Hamilton. She is certainly all the rage right now. She doesn't have a full page, but she is featured. I think she is underappreciated. In fact, I think she should be on the $10 bill instead of her husband! She did so many great things.

How do you think writing these books changed your perspective?

I think it deepened and widened my appreciation of the women who came before. I've always [felt] that way, but it was made even greater because I hadn't realized the incredible work they had done. I think these women did these good works because they genuinely wanted the country to succeed. They were great patriots to this country. These women suffered all the hardships and made all the sacrifices for the cause. Abigail Adams at one time said that women were greater patriots than men. She said, “Patriotism in the female breast is the most distinguished of virtues.”

What was the most enjoyable part of the process?

Research is by far the most fun just because you're learning something new every day, all day, and most of it is just utterly delightful. There is always that delight in reading these women's letters. They are more honest, more frank, funnier and more inclusive than the men's letters because they didn't expect their letters to be preserved and published. They write about politics, but they also write about fashion and economics and who are having babies, so it is really a much fuller picture of American society. It's fascinating. That's the fun part. But I [also] like writing. It's killer work, but I like doing it too.

What was your collaboration with illustrator Diane Goode like?

She has such a great sense of humor and she is very meticulous in her research. When she was doing “Founding Mothers,” she even looked up how these women got their clothes cleaned and all sorts of other wonderful details like that. She works with sepia ink and she found antique quills with the pen nibs, worked with those and saw how hard it was because they splotch, and it really helped her get into the heads of these women. She is a lovely human being and it was really nice partnering with her. We enjoyed it a lot, so I was thrilled that we got to work together again.

Who do you hope to influence with these young reader's editions?

I certainly do want boys to read it. Do I think it's going to be more girls? Yes, people always want to give this sort of book to their daughters and granddaughters, but they should also be in schools. Children need to know these stories. They need to know this country was not solely founded and preserved by a bunch of men in pantyhose and white wigs. I often say to kids, “In all of these pictures of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, is anything missing?” Usually a girl will nervously raise a hand and say, “Women. There are no women in the pictures.” So I'll say to them, “Do you think there were women then?” It's so important to have these discussions. Honestly, you can go through years of school without knowing these women existed and I have set about trying to change that.

The young reader's edition of “Ladies of Liberty” is available beginning on December 6 in bookstores and online. The information-packed pages are good for readers ages 6 and up.


Katie Schubert is assistant editor for Washington Parent