We Are Our Mothers' Daughters

We Are Our Mothers' Daughters

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In this bestselling collection of essays, renowned news correspondent Cokie Roberts examines the nature of women's roles, from mother to mechanic, sister to soldier, through the illuminating lens of her personal experience. Each essay introduces us to several of the fascinating women Roberts has encountered during the course of her reporting career; Roberts also relates moving anecdotes about the women in her life, like her mother, former congress-woman Lindy Boggs. These intimate portraits of women become the springboard for more extensive discussions of women's issues, such as women's positions in politics, business, motherhood, and marriage.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781567403084
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication date: 04/15/1999
Edition description: Abridged, 3 Cassettes, 4 Cassettes
Product dimensions: 4.33(w) x 7.03(h) x 1.21(d)

About the Author

Cokie Roberts is a political commentator for ABC News and NPR. She has won countless awards and in 2008 was named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress. She is the author of the New York Times bestsellers We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters, Founding Mothers, Ladies of Liberty, and, with her husband, the journalist Steven V. Roberts, From This Day Forward and Our Haggadah.

Cokie Roberts is a political commentator for ABC News and NPR. She has won countless awards and in 2008 was named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress. She is the author of the New York Times bestsellers We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters, Founding Mothers, Ladies of Liberty, and, with her husband, the journalist Steven V. Roberts, From This Day Forward and Our Haggadah.

Read an Excerpt

A Woman's Place
A woman's place is in the house... And in the senate," the T-shirts and buttons proclaim at women's political events. "A Woman's Place Is in Uniform," trumpets a book about women in the military. "A woman's place is at the typewriter," declared Fortune magazine back in 1935. That was convenient for the economy and so it was decreed. A few years later a woman's place was in the factory or in the nursing corps because that was essential for the war effort. Then a woman's place was in the home. And now? A woman's place is anywhere she wants it to be. Fine, but who's taking care of the children? That's the question that keeps us roiled up over this issue.
Recently the country got all in a snit over the case of ababy apparently killed by his baby-sitter in Boston. Were people demanding the head of the baby-sitter? No, quite the contrary, it was the mother who came in for abuse by the radio callers and the editorial writers. She went to work three days a week, corning home at lunchtime to breast-feed, even though her husband had a perfectly good job. What kind of mother was she? Obviously, a selfish, greedy one who was willing to leave her children in the care of an inexperienced young woman. Wait a minute. Suppose she had gone out at night with her husband and left the babies with a teenager? What then? And didn't society just direct thousands of mothers to leave their children inanother's care by requiring that we welfare mothers go to work? Could we make up our minds here, please?
No, probably not, because we're still confused about this issue of a woman's place. We're confused because we know that no matter what else a woman is doing, she's also care taking and we worry that a woman "out at work" might leave someone, especially her children, without care. That's what's at the heart of this sometimes vicious debate. Sure, a lot of other, much less noble, attitudes also underlie these arguments. Plenty of people still think that women are just plain uppity and they see a woman's place as someplace to put her. But I think it's the question of the children, and now old people as well, that truly troubles us. And women with children often find whatever choice they make uncomfortable.
That wasn't always true. For most of human history menand women worked together in the same place and each one's work complemented the other's. No one thought the farmer's job was more important than the farm wife's. Neither could manage without the other. Teenage relatives often moved in to help care for the children, to protect them from household hazards like open fires while the busy mother made the soap and the candles, spun the cloth, pieced together the clothes, fixed the food. Women gathered together to help with large chores, and visited as they worked. They also congregated to attend to births and deaths, taking comfort from each other's company.Whenever I think of the courage it took to leave everything and everyone behind to come to this continent in the early years of colonization, I am struck by the fortitude of those settlers. First the trip across the ocean, then in later generations the trek across the continent, required women to "do it all." The history of the movement west is one of extraordinary men and women overcoming incredible odds together. It was the industrial revolution that changed everything. Men went out to work for wages, and they were paid for the hours they put in, not the tasks they completed. (Poor women went into the factories, or to domestic work, as well. In 1850 women comprised 13 percent of the paid labor force; this question of women's work is one directly related to economic class.) Suddenly, what women did at home lost its value because there was no paycheck attached. Repetitive housework replaced home manufacture as women's crafts moved into assembly-line production. And that's what we've been struggling with ever since. Doing work that is economically rewarded and socially recognized means leaving home. That could change with the information revolution, as machines make it possible to work just about anywhere. But I think it's unlikely to alter the fact that women aren't paid for their jobs as nurturers, and it still leaves women at home isolated from other women.
We Are Our Mothers' Daughters. Copyright © by Cokie Roberts. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Introduction to the Paperback Editionxi
We Are Our Mothers' Daughters3
Consumer Advocate35
Mechanic, First Class77
Civil Rights Activist125
A Woman's Place221
Suggested Reading233

What People are Saying About This

Cokie Roberts

From the Author:

Pity my poor daughter at holiday time. Like it or not, she's turned into the Christmas fairy. It started innocently enough, with her helping me in the kitchen, a little girl eager to make a mess with the Chanukah and Christmas cookie cutters, to smash the cranberries up for relish. But she got too adept at it for her own good. As the years went on, I started relying on her for more and more: "Becca, please wrap this; Becca, please decorate that." Unfortunately for her, she's a good bit more artistic than I am, (so is my dog Rupert ) so anything that required style or grace meant she was summoned into action.

On December 24, the action gets a little frantic, what with running through closing shopping malls, grabbing at anything vaguely appropriate for last minute guests we didn't know would be coming. Then it's home to wrap and wrap until we head out to other family, trying gamely to look festively put together. For years, when she lived at home, Becca also had to teach me my part to sing in the choir at Midnight Mass. And, the worst was yet to come-there was still my mother to deal with. After church the kids would decamp to their grandmother's to help her tote bag after bag of presents to her car so that she could spend the night with us and not wake up alone on Christmas morning. That was an all night adventure.

When Becca grew up and moved away, I'd call her every year and whimper, "This is the year it's not going to happen, this is the year I'll never get it all done. Come home!" Patiently, she'd tell me that she had a job, had a life, would get here when she could, but don't worry, it would be ok. And she's right, because she gets here in time to make it ok. But this year temptation stared her squarely in the face. My mother, who now lives in Rome, will have her own, much saner Christmas, having left me with the family house and the family cast of fifty for dinner. In a treacherous move, Mamma invited Becca and her husband to join her for Christmas. Bless her, "Mom would kill me," was the instant response from my daughter. Maybe not kill her, but I wouldn't know what to do without her, this year it really wouldn't get done. So my daughter will be here still smashing the cranberries and stuffing the goose, letting other family members enjoy Christmas with her grandmother. We'll go together on our Roman holiday the next day, after all the guests have gone home, stomachs full and gifts in hand-thanks


On April 30, 1998, barnesandnoble.com was pleased to welcome Cokie Roberts to our Authors@aol series to talk about her new book, WE ARE OUR MOTHERS' DAUGHTERS. Roberts is coanchor of ABC's "This Week" and an ABC special correspondent covering politics, Congress, and public policy. She is also a news analyst for National Public Radio and writes a syndicated newspaper column.

LeightonBN: Mrs. Roberts! Welcome to our (modest little) spotlight.

Cokie Roberts: Thanks for having me. I'm delighted to join you.

LeightonBN: If you're all set to start, why don't we turn it over to the audience?

Cokie Roberts: Absolutely.

Question: Is "Cokie" short for anything?

Cokie Roberts: My name is Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs Roberts. You figure it out.

Question: Regarding your column of last April portending the erosion of representational Democracy by the Internet: Am I to understand that you prefer the filtering of national debate through a tiny Washington clique of professional politicians and reporters to the empowerment of the grassroots to frame their own issues?

Cokie Roberts: Of course not. What I am suggesting is that there needs to be deliberation and a balancing of regional interests. When everyone just votes by polling, there's no opportunity for leadership, education, etc. Many issues are complex in their impact on different regions, different economic classes, etc. Just registering "aye" or "nay" doesn't do it.

Question: Did you ever consider following your mother's and father's examples and going into politics?

Cokie Roberts: I met my husband when I was 18 years old, and it was always his life's ambition to be a journalist. So it would have been very difficult for him if I had become an activist. Then I discovered that I, too, love journalism and think I can perform a public service there as well. Although there are plenty of politicians who would dispute that.

Question: Welcome, Ms. Roberts. Missed your "Imus" appearance. How did it go?

Cokie Roberts: He could not have been more gracious and polite.

Question: Do you write your own commentary for NPR and ABC as the congressional analyst?

Cokie Roberts: "Write" is too strong a term. I outline what I am going to say when there is a set situation, like the interviews with Bob Edwards on NPR or Peter Jennings on ABC. Otherwise, I just talk. If there is a scripted piece with audio or videotape inserts, yes, I write that. All correspondents do.

Question: What are some of the things you as a female journalist have had to overcome? How about Hillary Clinton's statements in Connecticut today that demeaning male comments should be met with humor?

Cokie Roberts: I didn't hear about Hillary Rodham Clinton's statement. She's probably right, depending on how demeaning and what the circumstances are. The biggest problems I've had to overcome as a female journalist were internal: getting hired, getting promoted, getting good assignments, etc. I have never had a problem with people I'm covering.

Question: What do you think about David Brinkley's decision to play pitcher for Archers Daniel Midland?

Cokie Roberts: David Brinkley is a man I admire greatly, and a person for whom I have a great deal of affection. It seems to me that he has come in for a great deal more criticism than a lot of other people who are still practicing journalists who do ads. David is retired. But I do think it was a mistake to run the ads on our program, because it was confusing.

Question: The founder of Mount Holyoke College, Mary Lyon, wanted to do for young women what Harvard and Yale did for young men. Sex is no longer a barrier for attending these schools. As a Wellesley graduate, do you think single-sex educational institutions are still valid at the end of the 20th century?

Cokie Roberts: Yes. In fact, much to my surprise, we find that most of the high-achieving women went to women's schools, still. I expected that would change a generation after coeducation, but it has not. When I went to Wellesley, there was, of course, no opportunity for girls to go to most of the Ivy League schools. What I found was that I got a far better education there than my male counterparts were getting at prestigious male institutions. I'm not sure that's as true today, just because a lot of smart girls now go to coed schools. By the way, it's not just the Seven Sisters schools that produce successful women. Many of the women in Congress went to small Catholic women's colleges and received both a fine education and the special sense of achievement that those schools provide.

Question: Do you get more complaints from Republicans or Democrats on your reporting? Do they feel you are biased?

Cokie Roberts: It's about equal. These days it's more from Democrats, because they feel that press criticism of Bill Clinton's behavior should cease.

Question: The New York Times had a fairly prominent article on Jane Harmon's campaign for governor in California the other day. They suggested that her sex might act as the clincher for whether she won or lost. Your thoughts?

Cokie Roberts: California has a more significant female majority in the electorate than other states. Females are in the majority everywhere; I just can't remember at the moment how much more so they are in California. Also, the state has shown a willingness to elect two female senators. However, the last female candidate for governor, Kathleen Brown, went into the election with a sizeable lead in the polls and blew it. My take on the New York Times piece was that the same thing could happen to Jane Harmon unless she started talking issues, and that women in particular were tired of the "I'm one of the girls" routine.

Question: What has 24-hour broadcasting (CNN, CNBC, and the Internet) done to broadcast journalism? Have you felt the changes yourself?

Cokie Roberts: There is definitely pressure to get it faster, harder, etc. We have found, however, that the frustration of being unable to break a story until the evening news is now obviated by the reality that you get almost the same credit by putting it on the Web.

Question: Will we ever be able to leave behind the days of spin doctors and polls to determine what to say and/or do?

Cokie Roberts: I'm not entirely sure I understand the question. We certainly can determine what to say or do without any help from anybody. If the question is whether the politicians can do that, the answer lies in the politician. If an officeholder uses polls to determine where the public is on something, and uses spin doctors to learn what language is effective in communicating with the voters on an issue, that's okay. It's essentially a neutral exercise. The problem comes when the politician decides what to think based on those facts. If he/she knows that there's a course to pursue and uses the data to learn how to bring the people along, then that's an effective use of leadership. If polls are used to decide where to stand on an issue, that shows an unprincipled politician.

Question: In your book you speak frankly about your sister death's and reveal a vulnerable side to the congressional sharpshooter you're recognized as. How is a woman to balance being taken seriously in the world without sacrificing the softer side of her being that's sensitive to the bigger picture?

Cokie Roberts: I think we all can do it. And I appreciate greatly your understanding of what I was writing about. You don't have to be nasty or mean to show that you are intelligent. Both in public and private you can let people know that you care, and frankly, after all these years I think it only works for you to show what kind of person you are, assuming you're a nice person.

Question: Why hasn't the women's movement come to the aid of Paula Jones? Are they forgiving of Clinton's possibly boarish behavior simply because they think he's better for women overall?

Cokie Roberts: Yes, in a nutshell. But in my view, it's even worse than that. It's because they are partisan Democrats and they are standing by their man. I recommend the Marjorie Williams piece in this month's Vanity Fair.

Question: Finish this sentence for us: "A woman's place is in..."

Cokie Roberts: Wherever it needs to be at that point in time. Women need to be in many places, often in many places at once. Women often find that they need and/or want to be in the workplace, need and/or want to be at home, need and/or want to be with a friend in the hospital, at school, etc. Sometimes we have the luxury to do those things at the right time for us and for our families. Sometimes life hits you between the eyebrows and forces you to adjust. My mother certainly didn't expect my father's plane to disappear over Alaska when he was 58 and for her to be elected to Congress at 57. I certainly didn't expect my sister to die at the untimely age of 51, and me to take care of her for that last year, while I was doing TV and radio. Life forces places on you. What I hope women will take from my book is the encouragement that they are right in their choices, that they are capable of juggling -- because women have been doing it from time out of mind -- and that they should celebrate their roles as nurturers and carriers of the culture. And to understand that there's no such thing as one choice. We make new choices all the time as new circumstances present themselves.

LeightonBN: Thanks so much for joining us, Cokie. It's been informative and a lot of fun. Goodnight.

Cokie Roberts: Thanks so much for having me; I liked it. Goodnight.

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We Are Our Mothers' Daughters 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
cindyloumn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I usually dont go for this type of book. But I loved the title, Esp with having 2 daughters. Alot of women's history regarding jobs, women's rights, govt, etc. But alot of really good holsim, family thoughts. It was alittle upper middle class or just upper class at times. I like the author, she doesnt judge. The hx stuff got a bit old though.rating=86//22/98
Anonymous More than 1 year ago