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tv   Book Discussion on Capital Dames  CSPAN  September 17, 2016 4:00pm-4:52pm EDT

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re opens to the public for the first time next saturday, september 24. american history tv will be live from the national mall starting at 8:00 a.m. eastern with sights and sounds leading up to the 10:00 a.m. opening ceremony. we'll be live with the dedication which includes remarks by president obama and founding museum director lonnie bunch. this is american history tv only on c-span3. >> next on history bookshelf journalist cokie roberts talks about her book "capital dames the civil war and the women of washington 1848 to 1868." she reads letters from influential women who lived and worked in washington d.c. in the midst of the civil war including adelle douglas and serena davis. this was recorded at politics and pros bookstore in washington, d.c. in 2015.
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cokie: this is a neighbor of mine, as well. we live very close to each other. i live in the house that i grew up in. the she's newer to the neighborhood. i probably moved there before she was born. but what a fabulous contribution she made to this community. really. [applause] cokie: really wonderful. in addition to taking on this now legendary store a legend in washington, doing the national book fair was really a challenge and one that was well met. didn't you guys go? my grandsons are here. you have to pay attention. you have to sit up and pay attention. [laughter] cokie: but really they did a fabulous job. my college roommate is here. you see it's all the old -- and another college classmate.
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it's the old gang. and robert stevens, my roommate when i was in college, helped me type my papers late at night. and she couldn't help me finish this book and it was really upsetting to me. because i was very late in getting it in. but it was great fun to do. i appreciate your words. i started on this quest about women in history really as a result of growing up with my mother. and many of you knew her. lindy boggs. i watched when i was growing up here in post-world war ii washington the women my mother and her cohorts, running everything. they ran the political conventions. they ran the voter registration drives. they ran their husbands' campaigns, they ran their
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offices and along with the african american women in washington they ran all the social service agencies. and, in fact, when my father was killed in a plane crash and my mother then ran for congress, she called lady bird johnson who was one of her closest, closest friends, and one of this group of remarkable women, and she told her that she was going to run for congress and didn't want mrs. johnson to read it in the paper and lady bird said that's nice lind, --y, but how are you going to do it without a wife? that was a very good question and one mom had a hard time with because she ended up playing both roles, of course, making it twice as hard. but it was an experience and way of growing up that really did give me a deep appreciation for the women in politics now and for women in history.
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and i got very particularly interested in the women of the revolutionary period because i have to deal with the founding fathers all the time. i mean, yes, i know them all by first names. i'm not crazy about them. i admire them but once you start reading their wives' letters, you like them less. but the -- but that's an era that if you cover congress and politics as long as i have, you deal with constantly. and they're invoked constantly, right? the founders -- the people who say that, mainly in the united states senate, have it wrong about 99.9% of the time. so i was always going back to see what they actually did say about religion in the public square or the right to bear arms or whatever it was. why you have to be an american -- a child of american citizens to be president.
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it's like, you don't have to be born in america. canada will do. which seems to put the whole kenya thing to rest. interesting. but -- so i had gotten to know the men and i started to be very curious about what the women were up to and i really didn't know anything and so i went back to find out and the reason i didn't know anything is because it really hadn't been written with the exception of a couple of good biographies of abigail adams, there really wasn't anything. since then, quite good books have come out but it wasn't true at the time. you can't hear? thank you. is that any better? thank you. so i -- that's how i wrote "founding mothers" and the
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sequel "ladies of liberty" taking us through john quincy adams' inauguration. i was happy with it but the publisher wanted a civil war book. i never intended to write a civil war book. first of all, all of my relatives were on the losing side. they did all fight and lost. and it's an awful war. it's 600,000 dead americans fighting each other but they really did want a book so i started puzzling around about what it would be. i did know that whatever it would be i would love the letters because women's letters are fabulous. they are so much better than men's letters. they really are. because the men knew they were doing something extraordinary. even the ones who weren't. [laughter] cokie: and they -- so they wrote with that in mind. so their letters are studied and
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edited and often pompous, and focused and all that. the women just wrote letters. so they would -- they were full of politics. the women were deeply political but they also want talk about the economic situation who was having and all-too-often losing babies, and fashion. all of it. all of life is in the letters. and they are funny and they're frank and feisty and honest in ways that you don't find with the men and my personal -- and most of them have never been published before so i'm always on this quest, you know to see -- i don't know what i'm getting. so i'm reading along and seeing what it is what i can learn and my personal favorite actually remains one from the -- ladies of liberty. it was a letter written by louisa catherine adams who was
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the wife of john quincy adams. and she -- it was here in washington in 1820. and he was secretary of state. and she had written -- she wrote these chatty letters home to john adams. abigail had died and he was lonely so she had written him at one point saying it was her vocation to get her husband elected president. and so it's the year 1820. it's the year of the missouri compromise. congress stayed in session much longer than usual because of hammering out the compromise. and finally they adjourned. she goes to a meeting of the orphan asylum trustees. dolley madison, with the local women here founded the orphan asylum after the british invasion in 1814. so she goes to a meeting of the trustees and one of the trustees says to her that they're going to need a new building. and she said why? what are you talking about?
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and the woman said, the session had been very long the fathers of the nation had left 40 cases to be provided for by the public and our institution was the most likely to be called upon to maintain this illicit progeny. 40 pregnant women left behind, and there were only about 200 members of congress. now, some of them could have been recidivists, i don't know. so she says to john adams, i recommended a petition to congress next session for that great and moral body to establish a family institution and should certainly move that the two additional dollars a day which they have given themselves as an increase in pay may be appropriated as a fund toward the support of the institution. it doesn't get any better than that. when i discovered this, i just couldn't believe it.
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so i knew -- i knew whatever this book was going to be, that i would come upon wonderful letters like that and it turns out, in fact, her daughter-in-law, abigail brooks adams, married to charles francis adams who was here briefly in congress and became the union's ambassador to the court of st. james and was instrumental in keeping the british from recognizing the confederacy. but while they were here in washington, it was the infamous 36th congress, the secession congress, and she's writing home these unbelievably frank letters to her son, henry adams, and she says of president buchanan that he is a heavy old toad and the senate behaved like children and still he runs it bat. we can get behind it. my favorite. "i would advise any young woman who wishes to have an easy quiet life, not to marry an
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adams." so, you know, i knew whatever i did that the letters would be great but i still didn't know what the book was and so i started thinking about, again, my own growing up here after world war ii and the effects of the war were very physically present. the mall was covered with what were called temporary buildings and they had initially gone up in world war i and more had been added in world war ii. i remember asking my parents what "temporary" meant because they didn't seem to be going anywhere and they were there for a long time until these big buildings were built on independence avenue. so you saw physically how the war had increased the government and made the city a bigger more important city. and we knew the stories or at least learned the stories of
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rosie the riveter and the government girls who came into town in large numbers to staff the bureaucracy and i knew because, again, i covered it, and had written about it -- i hadn't covered for these conventions but i had written about them. that after the war, the women's movement really did come into focus and the equal rights amendment was introduced in the first republican convention after the war and then the democrats, the next time around. so it had spurred on the women's movement. and there was this myth that women had all gone home after the war but it simply wasn't true. women were occupying all kinds of positions that they had never occupied before. 60,000 women took advantage of the g.i. bill and brought themselves to where we are now where the majority of college graduates are female. so i started thinking i wonder
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if the civil war had a similar impact on the role of women, the place of women, and the role of washington. and as i started to do the research, i found out absolutely and dramatically so. and so that's the book. and it turned out to be fascinating to learn about and to write. rosie the riveter women came in to work in the arsenal and all over the north but in washington there were a couple of dozen very young women were killed in a horrible arsenal explosion and the newspaper stories about it are just horrific because they uncovered the women the next at a and their bodies were unrecognizable but the reporter says, but they were trapped in their hooped skirts so here they were in washington in the middle of july doing this incredibly dangerous work of stuffing the ammunition creating the
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ammunition. and dressed as the proper ladies of the time. there is a beautiful monument to them at the congressional cemetery but the president giving due to the huge contribution they had made to the war effort. government girls, same thing. women started arriving in washington as they had in world war ii mainly to start making a living because the men were gone, they needed a job. then it was fortuitous, just as they started showing up, congress authorized the printing of the money to fund the war. the money comes off the machines in these great huge sheets and of course now the bills are cut up by machines but then it required somebody sitting with a pair of scissors trotting out
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each bill and the treasurer of the united states said women are just better with scissors than men are and he also allowed as to how he could pay the women less, something i've had several bosses say along the way in a career. so you had, by the end of the war, one of the women journalists saying -- and she documents it, that there were women in every department of government. and that had just not been true before and they stayed, of course. of course, a woman journalist is another thing. there were women who came to washington to cover the politics and the war. some had been here before. one, jane swisshelm, who was an abolitionist and suffragette she was the first woman who had been allowed to report out of
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the capital press gallery but was kicked out of the capital press gallery because she wrote vicious truths. she actually wrote that daniel webster was a drunk. and the men were horrified. again, i found it so recognizable because the same thing had happened when we women journalists started covering political campaigns and got on the bus and, you know, the boys on the bus had taken a vow of omerta and we hadn't. and we actually wrote what went on on the campaign trail and i remember once coming back after some trip and i was on the brinkley show and, of course, i was the only woman and i said something along the lines of, you know, we do report everything what the candidate's up to, it's relevant. and i said of course we tell stories from the trail. and a lot of our best friends are the other correspondent's wives and this look of total
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terror came over the guys' faces and the time keeper for the show said there was 45 solid minutes of silence while they absorbed this piece of information. and then there are women you do know about but you probably don't know quite how remarkable they are, women like do dorothya dix, clara barton. before the war, do other yea dix wanted the government to put aside 12 million acres for the mentally ill and poverty stricken. and she'd get it -- the senate, she was already so influential because of her work for the mentally ill that the senate set aside an office in the capitol for her from which to lobby and she'd get it through one house one session, another house through another session. finally gets it through both houses of congress, president
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pierce vetoes it. so she left but before she left she got congress to establish saint elizabeth's, the government hospital for the insane. then she returns during the war and goes to the surgeon general and says she will be the superintendent of female nurses. there were no female nurses. nursing wasn't open to women. that was not an open field. and the surgeon general was terrified of her and basically said, yes, ma'am, you go do that. and then after -- and by the way, not only was nursing not open. the field of medicine was barely touched because women had not been allowed into medical schools and all this. so there were basically three or four women doctors by the time of the war. one of the them, mary walker, was a surgeon. she came to washington to get a job with the union army but ended up having to volunteer. she dressed like a man so they arrested her all the time just
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on general principles. and she is still, mary walker, is still the only woman to have won the medal of honor. and she was surgeon in the union army. and then clara barton is one of those stories where she was from a new england family of sufro just abolitionist mother. she always rallied against the fact that she didn't make as much as men and she came to washington to get a job with the government to make as much men and did in the patent office. then the war happens. massachusetts troops show up in the capitol. in fact, in the capitol, the senate chambers, and she started bringing them supplies and nursing them and reading them newspapers and all of that so they started writing home and saying there's this woman here
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who can do all this but people started from all over the country started sending their supplies. she went to the quarter master general and said i've got three warehouses of supplies and he sent her where she wanted to go, to the front. and she was incredibly brave and intreadip through all the wars around here, particularly in teetam which remains the single worst day in american history in terms of casualties and after the war lincoln allowed her to set up a missing person's bureau so she found missing soldiers but also identified the graves of tens of thousands of soldiers. so that they were given the respect of a marked grave and not left unknown. then she goes to europe and discovers something called the red cross and comes back here and establishes the american red
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cross. this is one of the many things that drives me crazy in history books. i mean, lisa says they infuriate her. this statement sends me around the bend. "and then she established the american red cross." really? it was hard? did anything go before that? you know, is there a story there? and of course there was. and she was able to get a red cross going in the united states but it didn't have the clout of being aligned with the international red cross where it could really do some work because senates first had to ratify the geneva conventions in order for them to be part of the international red cross. for two decades she lobbied the senate and finally got the senate to ratify the geneva treaty. she sent a representative to
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geneva, puts in what's called the american amendment, still called that -- which allows the red cross to go into disaster zones as well as war zones. so right now in nepal, after the earthquake, with the red cross there, it's the result of lobbying that clara barton did 130 years ago. so yeah, it's really a wonderful story. so all of these things were showing me how similar it was to world war ii and also fascinating me and, of course the people i was most interested in because of what i do for a living and also how i grew up was the political women. and they were just wonderful to read about. before the war, society was really ruled by southern women. they were a lot more fun, if the truth be told. and they referred to themselves
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as belles and there was a certain amount of vying among them but there was also a great deal of friendship. and their letters are full of politics but their letters are also again very, very frank. and at one point when adelle cutts, who they all love. she was dolley madison's great niece. she was brilliant and beautiful and kind. all the women write about her. they all liked her. they discovered she was going to marry steven douglas. none of them could stand steven douglas. he was considerably older and had a couple of kids and so jefferson davis' wife writes home to her mother and says, the dirty speculator and party trickster, broken in health by drink, with his first wife's money, buys an elegant well bred woman because she is poor and her father is proud.
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and vereena said, fortunately washington is getting a new water system so sparing his wife's olfactories douglas may wash a little oftener. if he don't, his acquaintance will build larger rooms with more perfect ventilation. you know the men don't write that steven douglas stank. so he still defeated lincoln a couple of years later for the senate. but she turns out to be one of the most delightful women and her letters are quite wonderful. she stayed friendly throughout the war even after her state's seceded -- mississippi is where she was from. mississippi seceded and he became president of the confederacy and she knew from the beginning, she wrote to her mother, there was no way this was going to work. she just did an analysis. we don't have enough manufacturing. we don't have enough railroads we can't win this war.
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but i'll do my duty, she said, so off she went to richmond but she stayed friendly with her friends in the north particularly elizabeth blair lee who we all know from blair house and montgomery blair and all of that. and montgomery blair was her brother. he was in lincoln's cabinet. her father, francis preston blair, was a lincoln confidante and adviser. her other brother, frank blair was a congressman. her husband phillips lee was robert e. lee's cousin but an officer in the union navy and because he was in the navy she wrote to him almost every day so there are thousands of letters and her war-time letters are actually published but there are plenty more on both sides of the war. i'll -- all happily at princeton. so her letters really give you a sense of what's happening here all through the war and how much danger washington was in, which
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was something i really had not focused on, particularly at the beginning of the war when there was every expectation that the southerners would just come in and burn the place down and until the forts were built around it, fort reno and fort stevens and all the ones we go by, it was really unsafe. and i found a diary an unpublished diary from 1861, that first year, of the woman who was the farmer rosedale. she really talks about how scary it is and she's a confederate sympathizer as were most of the people in town. and so she's telling her children, just keep quiet, for god's sake because loose lips sink ships. but in her case, she was afraid they'd say something intemperate and the union army would get them. and she was completely cut off from her children in virginia so you really get a sense of that
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of somebody you can recognize because she's right here at rosedale. elizabeth, lizzy lee was one of the few people who tried to befriend mary lincoln. not easy. she was really difficult. i think today she'd probably be diagnosed as bipolar. she was certainly mercurial. she let her views be known to everybody about how she -- who she thought was awful in the cabinet which was pretty much the cabinet. and she kept making enemies. and the press was all over her. they followed her everywhere, wrote about everything she did. all of her shopping, all of that. she was accused of leaking the state of the union message to the "new york herald" either in exchange for good publicity or money, depending on whose story you're reading. the congress launched an investigation into the first lady's communications.
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so you see, things don't change. and the president actually went to the hill and said, because it was a republican congress he could do this, he said, you know, please don't subpoena my wife, it will be very embarrassing to me but they did a full investigation and it was not pretty. the women of washington really didn't like her and it was somewhat reciprocated so her best friend became elizabeth keckly a former slave who had bought her freedom and come here. she was a very, very talented dress maker couturier. she ran a very profitable business. all of the prominent women went to her and had her make their best dresses so mary lincoln wanted the best and hired her and they became very good friends and ms. keckly was in the conversations with the president and first lady.
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the first lady also told her many things herself. she helped take care of mary lincoln after willie died and then after the president was shot mrs. lincoln was in the white house for two months and out of her mind. and ms. keckly took care of her then and then took her back to illinois and got her set up and then she wrote a tell-all book. i mean, it's really remarkable how things don't change. and of course that severed the relationship and it also ruined her business because other people were worried she might do the same. but it allowed her to then pursue her real passion which was social service, because she had understood, as a formerly enslaved person, what the situation was with the -- first it was escaped slaves coming in or those who had gone to the union army, called contraband
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and after emancipation, freed men. she understand there were many particularly the elderly who had no wherewithal to get a job or housing or anything. so she established a relief organization and because she had such prominent friends was able to raise a good deal of money and awareness of the issue and so she was able to then, after her business fell apart, to really throw her energies into the friedman relief as many other women came to town to work in, as well. and that was what really struck me in the end was how, after the war, as a result of the experiences during the war these women did move out front and take on their own causes and their own issues and they had been very involved and very influential behind the scenes but now they were marching on to
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the public stage themselves and so vereena davis, for instance after the war, after she got her husband out of jail, which was because he had been put in jail as part of the conspiracy to assassinate lincoln which was a crock but there he was. she prevailed upon andrew johnson to get him out of jail, which is another thing you cannot get over in this book, how she's -- these women are in and out of the white house all of the time just giving the presidents unshirted grief. it is fabulous. i am so jealous. you know they have complete access. and so after she gets her husband out of jail, they have a tough time and he finally dies and she decides to move to new york where she had a job with the "new york world" as a journalist and it was a huge -- the first lady of the confederacy moving to new york city and people offered her a
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house in richmond and all that and she wanted to move to new york and she had never been fully accepted by the south. her grandfather was the governor of new jersey and she was olive complexed, never fair enough for the southern belle so she moved to new york and said i am free, brown, and 64, i can do whatever i want. but then she got there and she was a journalist and ran something of a salon but she befriended julia grant and it was page one news in all of the newspapers, when she and mrs. grant met. and then she went to the dedication of the grant memorial. very publicly. because what she was engaged in was a very public series of acts of reconciliation, of bringing the sections of the country back together and she was doing this. she wasn't trying to influence a man to do it.
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she was doing it herself with her own voice very publicly. and similarly, some of the other belles, same thing. there's a wonderful delightful woman named virginia clay who wrote a book about herself called "a belle of the 50's" and after the war she became an ardent sufrojust and was on the platform. her husband, a senator from alabama, had fought bittery and now she was with them again in this public act of reconciliation but also with a cause that she felt that she could use her voice to promote and all the newspapers say that her voice was terribly important. and one of the great things now is that you can read all the newspapers. they're online. so you can waste days, because they're so much fun to read.
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and that interested me, too because when i was growing up it was always that a proper lady was only in the paper when she was born married and died and these women were in the papers all the time written about constantly. so she was very much out in front again after the war. another southerner, sarah pryor who went to new york, became a noted writer and created several important relief organizations worked with elizabeth blair lee who had stayed here and stayed true to the union, to help establish the daughters of the american revolution, again, in an act of reconciliation, going back to an earlier time when the country was together and had a common cause. and so they really did stand there on their own two feet in front of the public and make their cases with their own
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voices having been greatly empowered by the war. and clara barton, looking back on it at a memorial day address a couple of decades later said, woman was at least 50 years in advance of the normal position which continued peace would have assigned her. it is quite a story. i loved getting to know these women. i know you will, too. thank you for letting me share them with you and i'd be delighted to take your questions. thank you. [applause] cokie: questions? there's a microphone right there. audience: why does it seem like in history the women always seem to be deleted from history? cokie: why are the women conveniently deleted from history? because the men don't care. but as alisa said earlier, it's
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infuriating. it's also inaccurate. you can't tell history leaving out half of the human race and have an accurate history. so i just feel -- yeah, thank you. so -- but also it's so much more fun to have them. they're just more interesting. audience: i thought you and mr. besslaus were terrific at the national archives a couple of weeks. you mentioned there in passing how many of these people either went to visitation school or had a role there. can you talk about that? cokie: visitation stayed in operation all through the war. it had always accepted girls of every faith and all regions. and actually remarkably quite a few stayed through the war.
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most of the schools and hotels and everything were taken over either to house troops or as hospitals. washington became one great stinking hospital during the war because everybody coming in from all the battles around came in to washington. visitation was untouched because winfield scott who had been the chief general before the war his daughter had become a visitation nun and she was buried there. so he protected visitation. and it was never taken over. but it continued to operate all through the war. and a lot of these women went there. let's get some girls asking questions. but you go ahead. audience: you found wonderful things about mary todd lincoln. did you have an unexpected favorite source for mary todd lincoln? cokie: no, i didn't really spend that much time delving into mary
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todd lincoln because she has been written about a good deal. obviously, i had to deal with her. she was the first lady. so i was -- the parts that i found interesting were what other people who were contemporaries wrote about her because, again, it was first person, and they saw it. now, they all had views but -- and elizabeth keckli's book is very eye-opening about the white house and what was going on in the white house. but then also her niece -- so toward the end of the war mary lincoln's half sister came and stayed in the white house for about a week. her husband was in the confederate army and he had been killed. mary lincoln's brothers and -- half brothers and brother-in-laws were all in the confederate army which made her
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suspect to the north the way vereena davis was suspect to the south. so this half sister came and stayed and that woman's daughter later wrote a book defending her aunt mary but also it was very clear from that book how very crazy mary lincoln was at that point. her sister had kept a diary and she -- during her week in the white house, or 10 days whatever -- and mary had come in and told her that willie came to her bed at night and all of that. and she did have seances in the white house. audience: keckly is the only one i know of who mentioned that mary tells that steven douglas courted her at the same time as abraham lincoln long before they were -- cokie: right no, that's true. steven douglas did woo and lose mary todd. she was -- she was looking for a
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president. no, she really was. and even though everybody thought steven douglas was the presidential material, she saw something she could mold in abraham lincoln. and it was a love match. they absolutely loved each other. but it was just torture, you know. she was smart and she was political acute. she was just -- she had a difficult time. audience: she did -- cokie: she picked better, yeah. audience: the tales you've told so far are so interesting and i have already bought your book and started it but haven't gotten far enough to read some of this but i was thinking about is there any chance of a documentary about some of these fantastic women? cokie: a documentary producer would have to do a documentary. that's not me. audience: i'm going to jump in.
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i'm assuming there were women you were interested in writing about that perhaps you couldn't because the documentation -- cokie: cutts is the main one there. i wanted to stay in washington, because otherwise you're too confused and also i do washington well. one of the things i've learned, quite interested in reading history, is that academ ache historians often get the history right and the politics wrong. and it really is helpful to know how to analyze politics in order to write these books. and so i wanted to have sort of equal numbers of northerners and southerners. so -- and in reading 19th century books, the same women started being mentioned. and so then i did go searching for their papers. and adelle cutt, i never found
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any papers. i found the university of chicago had letters to her mainly after steven douglas died and a few others. sarah pryor, one of the women i write about sent her a recipe. sarah pryor seemed to send people virginia hams and she sent her a recipe that said, "unless you boil it overnight in champagne as they do in new orleans, this is the recipe." but i found hardly anything at all written by her. but she's still in there because everybody else talked about her so much. and the newspaper, when she died the newspapers referred to her as a popular icon so she was a personage. but for the most of the others, i was able to find papers and a lot of them unpublished papers. audience: what did you think you would have found about adelle cutts? cokie: i would like to have known what she had to say. i don't hear her voice.
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everybody else likes her, and they say she's smart and wonderful and she's this and that. every so often -- after douglas died and the whole world was wooing her because she was considered a great beauty, she did tell francis preston blair that she didn't want to marry -- she didn't want to settle. so. she did eventually remarry a union officer and had six children. audience: i just wanted to ask how did you find all of these letters? did you have to write across the country? cokie: no, you know, modern technology is a wonderful thing. "founding mothers" came out in 2004 and i started working on that around 2001. and then you really did have to go to places. but now you can see -- you can
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see where the guys' papers are and from mrs. google does that for you. and then you get in touch with those libraries or historic societies and ask if they have the women's papers if they're not listed and then they have become far far more accommodating because now they know what i'm up to. and so they can then scan papers. this is for a fee. which is fair enough. they're working. so they can scan papers and send them to you. what you get at that point is 19th century handwritten letters that are written horizontally and vertically so reading them is another matter altogether and i actually did have to hire somebody to read them. i really couldn't decipher a lot of them. audience: that leads me to think this is something educators are
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very concerned about because without children taught script today, they're not going to be able to read the letters. cokie: and what letters are there going to be to read? also another problem. that's one of the great things about your printer. because they have a printer where grandparents come in and write memoirs for their grandchildren which is wonderful and oral histories like story core on npr and things like that are also ways of recording this history because we are going to have a dearth of written materials. i mean, i guess if somebody's subpoenaed, you can get an instagram out of the cloud, i assume. but it's a problem. audience: i have to ask one more question because i can't help myself. i apologize in advance for this. but given the 2016 presidential race and the gender dynamics that we're all aware of, i'm just wondering if there is a
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woman in your book who transplanted 100 plus, 150 years later, whatever it is. cokie: 150. audience: would be presidential material today? cokie: sure. absolutely. i think that somebody like vereena davis, elizabeth blair lee. i mean, if they were in the right situation -- they certainly were knowledgeable enough and politically astute. in fact, the newspapers said of elizabeth blair lee when she died very few women have had so broad a political experience. and so i found the obituaries fascinating because i was surprised there even were obituaries and the only person i couldn't find an obituary were was elizabeth keckly which tells you about the times. but the -- but i think that, you know, given the ability to have
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political help and run they could have done it easily. audience: i guess you could make the argument that some of those women in fact had to deal with so many more constraints and still got a lot done. cokie: absolutely. not to mention that they would lose children all the time. it's heartbreaking to read how many children they lost. and of course during the war everybody was losing children. but little children. i mean both vereena davis and mary lincoln lost sons who were like 2 years old at the time and willie lincoln died in the white house. so did vereena davis' 10-year-old die in richmond falling off the top of a building. louisa meigs is in the book. her husband, montgomery meigs we all know in washington. one october, she lost a 3-year-old and a 10-year-old in some disease that came through. i mean, so just living through the day was incredibly difficult
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and still they were as interested and involved in politics and in policy as they were -- i just find that so incredibly admirable. they couldn't vote. married women couldn't own property. they were the property of their husbands. and still their enormous dedication to the country and to the -- to making it all come out right. >> we have time for one more question if anybody has one. i'm going to hand you this. audience: hi ms. roberts. i was just wondering if hearing about these remarkable women who accomplished so much in the face of so much discrimination lack of opportunity, what do you see
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now currently as being continuing odds that women face? cokie: there are odds. you know, there's still this discrimination. it's still very difficult in some fields and it's also still true. i personally think the single biggest problem is the workplace needs to be far more caretaker friendly. because you cannot have the best and the brightest, meaning the majority of college graduates and the vast majority of graduate school graduates, not able to be as productive, able to do their best work as possible and still be a competitive society. so i think that that is a challenge that really needs to be met but i also do feel and don't take this -- don't get upset. modern women, and men, too, but modern women are a bunch of sissies. you know, compared to what these women went through it's
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remarkable. when somebody says to me, i can't do it all, i feel like saying, meet your great grandmother and talk to her about it. because really, they did do it all and they didn't complain about it. they complained a little bit. [laughter] >> i hope you all will pick it up. cokie is happy to sign. i just want to thank her again for both coming and also for really as i said earlier helping enrich our understanding of a very important aspect of our own history. i don't know if there's another book in you but if there is, i hope you'll come back. if you wouldn't mind folding your chairs when you're done and putting them to the side, that will expedite the signing. [applause]
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