I was surprised as anyone that spring day of my sophomore year of high school at the awards assembly when I received the DAR Outstanding History Student award. I hadn’t been quiet about loathing “The Dream and the Reality” filmstrip series (yes, I’m that old) we had endured that year in our American History class. The “battle of this” or the “siege of that” just didn’t interest me. I wasn’t very good at remembering dates either. Frankly, as a high school student, I just didn’t like history.
I still don’t know why I received that DAR award, but I came to appreciate history when I discovered firsthand accounts like letters and diaries that told the personal stories. They might reflect battle strategies or political intrigue, too, but what they really do is tell the stories of individual lives. That’s something I can appreciate!
For oh so many reasons, women have little place in printed histories. If letters or diaries have survived, they offer a glimpse into the lives of women, their struggles and their triumphs in the every day of life. On this Independence Day, I want to offer up two reading suggestions as an alternative way to observing what took place on this continent in the 1700s.
Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation, by Cokie Roberts, is an excellent account of the women who ran the country while the men were off fighting wars or writing a constitution. You can learn about Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, Deborah Read Franklin and several other women whose contributions were critical in the founding of the new nation.
Moravian Women’s Memoirs: Their Related Lives, 1750-1820, translated by Katherine Faull, is a fascinating glimpse into religious practices of the time. During the Colonial period Moravians had a practice of keeping a memoir (Lebenslauf) which was an autobiographical account of their lives, with a special emphasis on their spiritual journey. Faull has translated the Lebenslauf of single women, married women and widows in this volume. The women’s words speak to the great support and fellowship they received while living in the midst of other women.
What are your favorite books about women in American history?
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director.