tv Cokie Roberts on Capital Dames CSPAN June 13, 2015 12:00pm-12:55pm EDT
a book party from the capital dames at the book museum in washington. >> i just want to say it's such a personal pleasure for me and for brad who is unfortunately not here, to host cokie roberts today. i think this is your sixth or seventh awe tower talks at politics and prose. you have been here for three previous books we have a couple of them if not all of them up front if you missed them. and cokie has been here several times with her husband steve roberts. ...
that does seem particularly appropriate because she will be discussing her new book "capital dames: the civil war and the women of washington, 1848-1868". cokie roberts is best known as one of our nation's most respected broadcast journalist. her broadcasts on in the our offer critical insight into the world's politics, government and washington, and as is the case with every campaign season she will be one of the most important voices we all listen to in the months ahead as the 2016 presidential race unfold and i know how busy you will be trying to cover -- >> by that time -- >> i was going to say the candidates that keeps growing forever.
i do want to mention in the r and nbc are her day job. you know the cokie roberts grew up in a political family she has seen political life from the inside and out and understand where political dynamics fitting to american history and for that reason it is not surprising that along with her commentaries on contemporary politics she's a student of american history and it is the role of women today and in previous year as that has captured her attention as a writer and an author. i can to emphasize enough from my own personal vantage point what a contribution she has made to filling in some very big blanks in the story of this nation specifically the role of women at critical junctures over the last 200 plus years. cokie roberts and i are talking earlier it is actually infuriatingly house so many people think the story of america is already complete and is just a matter of interpretation. it is not complete and thank you
for helping and large and enrich that story. she has relied on letters and journals and other accounts by and about women. her background in those resources present an important new dimension to understanding the colonial experience american revolution and turn newest book the civil war. in "capital dames" she introduces a cast of women, some known some long forgotten who wielded great clout in washington at a perilous time and explains how women change the capital and how the war changed them. not surprising part of the book is when it comes to women's rolls some things never change but i will let cokie roberts fill you in on the rest of the colorful, dramatic, and hugely important story about the impact of women in this country. we have plenty of copies up front she will sign them afterwards and give a warm welcome to cokie roberts.
[applause] >> thank you. this is the neighbor of mine. we live very close to each other. i live in the house i grew up in, she is newer to the neighborhood. i probably moved there before she was born and what a fabulous contribution lissa muscatine made to this community. [applause] >> really wonderful. in addition to taking on this now legendary store, a legend in washington, during the national book fair was really a challenge, you guys go? my grandsons were here sit up and pay attention. they did a fabulous job. my college roommate is here.
another college classmate, the old gained and barbara stevens my roommate when i was in college helped me type my papers late at night and she could not help me finish this book and was upsetting to me because i was very late in getting it in. it was great fun to do. i started on this quest about women in history as a result of growing up with my mother and many of you knew her. i watched what 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, all the social service agencies and in fact when my father was killed in a plane crash and my mother's and ran for congress she called lady bird johnson, one of her closest friends told her she was going to run, lady bird said how are you going to do it without a wife? that was the very good question and when she had a hard time with because she played both roles, making it twice as hard. it was an experience and way of growing up that really did give me a deep appreciation for the women in politics now and in
history. i got particularly interested in the women of the revolutionary period because i have to deal with the founding fathers of the time. i know the mall by first names. i am not crazy about them. i admire them but once you start reading their wives at letters you like them less. in congress they are invoked constantly. the founders said this. the people who say that mainly in the united states senate have it wrong about 99% of the time. i was always going back to see what they actually did say about religion in the public square or the right to bear arms, why you have to be an american, a child of american citizens to be
president. you don't have to be born in america. canada will do. what seems to put the kenya thing to rest. i had gotten to know the men, and i was curious 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 it hadn't been written with the exception of a couple of good biographies of abigail adams there really wasn't anything. since fin, there have been some good books but that wasn't true at the time. is that any better? thank you. so that is how i wrote founding mothers and the sequel ladies of liberty, taking us through john
quincy adams, the publisher wanted the civil war book. i never intended to write a civil war will. all my relatives were on the losing side. they did all fight and lost. it is an awful war, 600,000 dead americans fighting each other but they really did want a book so i started puzzling what it would be. what i did know is whatever it would be i would love the letters because women's letters are fabulous. a are so much better then men's led is they really are because the men news and they were doing something extraordinary. even the ones that weren't. kosovo they wrote with that in mind, their letters are studied
and edited, often pompous and focused and all that. the women just wrote letters. they were full of politics they were deeply political but they would talk about the economic situation, who was having and all too often losing babies, passion. all of life is in the letters and they are funny and frank and feisty and honest in ways that you don't find with the men. most of them have never been published before so i am always on this quest. i don't know what i am getting so i am reading a long and seeing what it is, what i can learn and my favorite remains one from ladies of liberty, a letter written by six catherine adams who was the wife of john
quincy adams and it was here in washington in 1820 and he was secretary of state and she had written, she wrote these chatty letters 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. it is fleer 1820, the year of the missouri compromise, congress stayed in session longer than usual because of the compromise and finally they adjourned, she goes to a meeting of the orphan asylum trustees that dolly madison with the local women here founded the orphan asylum after the british invasion so she goes to meet the trustees and one of the trustees said they needed new building,. she said why? what you talking about?
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 their only 200 members of congress. 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 established a founding 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 towards the support of the institution. it doesn't get any better than that and when i discovered this
i couldn't believe it so i knew what ever this book was going to be that i would come upon wonderful letters and it turned out in fact her daughter in law abigail brooks adams who was married to charles francis adams who was here briefly in congress and became the union ambassador to the court of st. james and was instrumental in keeping the british from recognizing the confederacy but while they bring your in washington was the infamous 36th congress which was the secession congress and she is writing home these and believably frank letters to her son henry adams and she says of president buchanan that he is a heavy gold code and the senate behave like children andtoad and the senate behave like children and selling bonds at that. i would invite any young women who wishes to have uneasy quiet young like not to marry and
adams. i knew what ever i did the letters would be great but i didn't know what the book was so i started thinking about again my own growing up here after world war ii and the effects of the war were physically present. the moral was covered with temporary buildings and they had initially gone up to 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 if there for a long time until the big buildings were built on independence avenue so you saw physically how the war had increased the government and made the city of bigger more important city and we knew the stories or at least learned the stories of rosie the river and
the government girls who came into town in larger numbers, to staff of bureaucracy and i knew because again i covered it and had written about it, i hadn't covered it before these conventions but i had written about them, after the war the women's movement really did come in to focus and the equal rights amendment was introduced and the first republican convention after the war and the democrats the next time around so it spurred on the women's movement and there was this myth of the women have all gone home after the war but it was not true. women were occupying all kinds of positions they had never occupied before, 60,000 women took advantage of the g i bill and brought themselves to where we are now, the majority of college graduates are female. i started thinking i wonder 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, so that is the book and it turned out to be fascinating to learn about and to write. rosy the rigor, women came in to work in the arsenals and all over the north but in washington a couple dozen very young women were killed in a horrible arsenal explosion and the newspaper stories about it are horrific because they uncovered the women then next day and their bodies are unrecognizable. but the reporter says they were trapped in their hoopskirt so here they were in washington in the middle of july doing this incredibly dangerous work of stuffing the ammunition,
creating the ammunition. they were addressed as proper ladies of the nineteenth century. there was a huge funeral from the president and the secretary of war and there's a beautiful monument to them at the congressional cemetery but the president giving do to the huge contribution they had made to the war effort. government girls same thing. women started arriving in washington just as they did in world war ii initially just to make 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 paper money to pay for the board. and the money, many of you have been to see it, it is so much fun. it is that huge sheet and now bills are cut up by machines but then it required somebody sitting with a pair of scissors
cutting out each bill and the treasurer of the united states said women are just better with scissors. he also allowed to pay the women were less something i have had several bosses say along the way in occur rear. so by the end of the war, one of the women journalists documents it there were women in every department of government and that had not been true before. woman journalist is another thin. there were women who came to washington to cover the politics in the war, some had been here before. and abolitionists and suffragist and bomb from basically, she was the first woman who had been allowed to report out of the capitol press gallery before the war but she was soon kicked out
of the capitol press gallery because she wrote vicious truths. she actually wrote that daniel webster was a drunk and the men were horrified. i found it so recognizable because the same thing happened when we women journalists started covering political campaigns and got on the bus and the boys on the bus had taken a vow of america and we hadn't and we actually wrote what went on on the campaign trail and i remember coming back after some trip and i was on the brinkley show and i was the only woman and i said something along the lines that we do report, everything is what the candidate is up to end it is relevant. of course we tell stories from the trail and a lot of our best friends and other correspondents's why of san and this look of total terror came
over the guys's faces and the timekeeper for the show said there was 45 solid minutes of silence while they absorb this piece of information and then there are women you do know about but don't know quite how remarkable they are. within like dorothea dix and clara barton. before the word for the headaches had come to washington to lobby for a bill for the federal government, she wanted the government to put aside 12 million acres for the mentally ill and poverty-stricken and she was so influential because of her work for the mentally ill that the senate set aside an office in the capital for her from which to lobby and finally she gets both houses of congress and president pierce vetos it
and she left but before she left she got congress to establish st. elizabeth which is called a government hospital for the in sane and she comes back during the war and goes to the surgeon general and then she will be the superintendent of female nurses but there were no female nurses. nursing wasn't open to women. that was not an open field. the surgeon general was terrified of her and said yes ma'am, you go do that can by the way not only was nursing not open, the field of medicine was barely touched because women had not been allowed into medical school and all this. there were three or four women doctors by the time of the war. one of them, mary walker, was a surgeon. she came to washington to get a job with the union army but had to volunteer the she dressed like a man said they arrested her all the time just on general
principles and she is still, mary walker is still the only woman to have won the medal of honor. carl bar in -- clara barton, one of those stories from a new england family the abolitionist mother, she came to washington to get a job to make more money. make as much as men. and they were bivouacked in the chamber. and bringing supplies and nursing them and reading the newspapers and all of that and they started riding home saying there is this woman here who do
all this and people all over the country started sending supplies. she went to the quartermaster general and cut three warehouses full of supplies and he sent her where she wanted to go which was to the front and she was incredibly brave and intricate to all the wars which remained antietam which is the single worst day in american history in terms of casualties. after the war one of the last acts lincoln performed was to allow her to set up but missing persons bureau and 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 the known. then she goes to europe and discovers something called the red cross and comes back here and establishes the american red
cross. this is one of many things that drives me crazy in history books. this kind of statement is a round the bend. and then she established the american red cross. really? was it hard? did anything go before it that? is there a story if there? of course it there was. 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 to do some work because they had to ratify the geneva convention 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. a representative to geneva put
in the american amendment 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 is the result of the lobbying clara barton did 130 years ago. it is a wonderful story and all of these things, showing me how similar it was to world war ii and fascinating me, and of course what i was most interested in, because of what i do for a living and how i grew up was the political women. they were wonderful to read about. before the war there society was really ruled by southern women. they were a lot more fun, truth be told. they referred to themselves as
bell's. there was a certain amount of buying among them but also a great deal of friendship and their letters are full of politics and also again very very frank and at one point, dolley madison's gray beast was brilliant and beautiful land kind. they all liked her. they discovered she was going to marry stephen douglas. none of them could stand steven douglas and he was considerably older and had a couple of kids and so jefferson davis's wife writes home to her mother and says the dirty speculator and party trickster, broken in health by drawing with his first wife's money, buys an elegant, well bred woman because she is poor and her father is
proud, fortunately washington is getting a new water system so sparing his wife capsule factories, douglas may wash of a little more often. his acquaintance will build larger rooms with more perfect ventilation. the men don't write that stephen douglas saying so he still defeated lincoln 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 state -- mississippi seceded and he became president of the confederacy and she knew from the beginning that there was no way this was going to work. she did an analysis we don't have enough manufacturing or railroads, we can't win this war but i will do my duty and 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 that and montgomery blair was her brother, was in lincoln's cabinet, her father, francis, was a lincoln confidence and adviser, her brother was a congressman, her husband, phillips lee was robert e. lee's cousin, was an officer in the union navy and because he was in the navy she wrote to him almost every day there are thousands of letters and her wartime letters are actually published but there are plenty more on both sides of the war. happily at princeton. so her letters be elite give you a sense of what is happening here through the war and how much danger washington was in.
that was something i had not talked about before the war when there was every expectation they would come in and burn the place down and the forts were built around it, fort stevens and all the others that go by, it was really unsafe and i found a diary, and published diary from 1861, she really talks about how scary it is. she was the competitive sympathizer she is telling her children just keep quiet because loose lips sink ships but in her case, would say something in temperate and the union army would get the man she was completely cut off in virginia.
you really get a sense of someone you can recognize because she is right here at rosedale. elizabeth was one of the few people who tried to be friend mary lincoln not easy. she was really difficult. i think today she would be diagnosed as bipolar. she was certainly mercurial. she met her views be known to everybody about how -- who she thought was awful in the cabinet which was pretty much the cabinet. she kept making enemies. the press was over her. they followed her everywhere, wrote about everything she did, all of her shopping, 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 are reading. the congress launched an investigation into the first
lady's communications. so you see things don't change. and the president actually went to the hills and said because it was a republican congress he could do this, and he said please don't subpoena my wife. it would 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. it was somewhat reciprocated. so her best friend became a elizabeth cac 40 of former slave who bought her freedom and came here. you was a very talented dressmaker. arrayed -- she ran a very profitable business. all these prominent women went to her and had their best dresses made some very lincoln wanted the best and hired her and they became good friends. she was in the conversations with the president and first lady the first lady also told
her many things herself, helped take care of married lincoln after willie died and after the president was shot mrs. lincoln was in the white house for two month and down of her mind, and mrs. ceckley took her back and rototill all but. is remarkable how things don't change. it allowed her to pursue her real passion which was -- she understood the situation with escaped slaves going in or those going to the union army called
contraband and every emancipation, friedman. she understood there were many, particularly the elderly who have no where with all to get a job or housing or anything so chic 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 so she was able after her business fell apart to throw her energies into the free men relief, to working as well. that was what really struck me in this 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 in flu when shall, now they were
marching on to public stages themselves. davis after the war after she got , now they were marching on to public stages themselves. davis after the war after she got her husband out of jail she prevailed andrew johnson to get him out of jail, how these women are in and out of the white house all the time just giving the president grief. it is fabulous. i am so jealous. complete access. after she gets her husband out of jail, he finally dies and she decides to move to new york, a job with the new york world as a journalist. moving to new york city.
she wanted to move to new york. she had never been fully accepted. she was conflicted was never quite fear enough for the perfect southern bell. king moved to new york, i am free and do whatever i wanted. then she got there and was a journalist and ran us along but the friend julia grant and it was page 1 news in all the newspapers when they met. the grant memorial, she went there very publicly. she was engage in a very public series of acts of reconciliation, of bringing this section back together. she was doing this, wasn't trying to influence a man to do
this but with herself and her voice, very publicly. and similarly, some of the other bells same thing, a wonderful delightful woman va. clay who wrote a book about herself called a bell of the 50s kaimac after the war and argent suffragist on platforms, and the senator from alabama, bitterly before the war. and with them again, also with a cause, the newspapers say her voice was terribly important. one of the great things, you can read all the newspapers, they were on line and you can waste
days. that interested me too. when i was growing up it set a proper lady was only in the paper when she was born, married and died. she was very much out in front after the war. and to new york a noted writer created several import relief organizations worked with elizabeth blair lee who strayed true to the union to help establish the american revolution. had a common cause and exo they really did stand there on their own two feet made it with their
own voices having been greatly empowered by the war. clara barton looking back on it at a memorial day address a couple decades later said it was different from what piece would have assigned her. i loved getting to know is these women and i know you will too. thank you for letting me share them with you and i would be delighted to take your questions. [applause] >> questions? microphone right there. >> why does it seem like in history of the women always seem to be conveniently deleted from history? >> why are women deleted from history teacher because the men don't care. it is infuriating and also
inaccurate. you can't tell history leaving out half of these human race human race and have an accurate history and it is so much more fun to have them. they are so much more interesting. go ahead. >> i thought you were terrific at the national archives, a wonderful program. you mentioned kind of in passing out many of these people went to visitation school or had a role. talk a little more. >> visitation stated 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 work ar . schools and hotels were taken over to serve as hospitals. washington was one great hospital because everyone came into washington. visitation was untouched because winfield scott who had been chief general before the war his daughter was a visitation known and she was buried there. he protected visitation and it was never taken over but it continued to operate all through the war and a lot of women went there. let's get some girls asking questions. you go ahead. >> you found wonderful things about mary todd lincoln. did you have an unexpected favorite source? >> no. i didn't spend much time delving
into mary todd lincoln because she has been written about a good deal. obviously i had to deal with her. she was the first lady. the parts that i found interesting were what eresting were what other people were, contemporaries wrote about her because it was first person and they saw it. they all had views and elizabeth ceckley's book is i opening about the white house and what was going on in the white house but also her niece. towards the end of the board, mary lincoln's half-sister came and stayed in the white house for all week. her husband was in the confederate army and he had been killed. mary lincoln's brothers and half brothers and brothers in law were in the confederate army. which made her a suspect to of
the north in a way davis is suspect in the south and so this half sister came and stayed and that woman's daughter later wrmary le a book defending her and mary and it was clear how crazy mary lincod, was at that point. her sister had kept a diary and during her week in the white house or ten days, mary had come in and told her, came to her bed at night and she did have seances in the white house. >> ceckley is the only one who mentions that mary told steven douglas cory ted her at the same time abraham lincod, long beforehand. >> stephen douglas did a blue and blues mary todd. she was looking for a president
she really was. even though everybody thought st athen douglas was the presidential material guy she saw something she could mold in abraham lincoln. they absolutely loved each other but it was torture. d ahe was smart. >> details you have told so far are so interesting. haven't gmary lten far enough to read this but i was thinking is there any chance of a documentary about some of these fantastic women? >> documentary producer would have to decide to do it.
hi wanted to stay in washington. i do washington well. one thing i learned reading history is academic historians often get history right and politics wrong. it really is helpful to know how to analyze politics in order to write these books and so i wanted to have equal numbers of northerners and southerners and in reading nineteenth century books, the same women started being mentioned a. soap than i did go searching for their papers. i never found any papers the
university of chicago had letters to her mainly after stephen douglass died and a few others sarah pryor, send her a recipe, sarah prior seemed to sent 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. i found hardly anything at all written by her but she is still in there because everybody else talked about her so much and the newspaper when she died the newspaper referred to her as a popular icon. for most of the others i was able to find papers and a lot of them unpublished papers. >> what do you think you would have found? >> i would like to know what she had to say. i don't hear her voice. everybody likes her and they say
she is really smart and wonderful and at this and that every so often after douglass died and the whole world was moving her because she was considered a great beauty. she did tell francis blair that she didn't want to marry. she did eventually remarry a union officer and had six children. >> can you hear me? i wanted to ask how did you find all these letters? did you have to ride across the country? >> modern technology is a wonderful thing. i found -- mothers came out in 2004. i started working on that around 2000 or 2001 and then you really did have to go places but now
you can see where the papers are and from -- mrs. google does that for you. and then you get in touch with those libraries or historical societies and ask if they have women speakers if they are not listed and they become far, far more accommodating because now they know what i am up to and they can scan papers. this is for a fee. they can scan papers and send them to you. what you get at that point is nineteenth century handwritten letters that are written horizontal we and a 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. >> this is something educators are very concerned about because
without children being taught script today they are not going to be able to read the letters. >> what letters are they going to read also? that is one of the great things about your printer. oral histories on npr, also ways of recruiting because we are going to have a dearth of written materials. i guess if somebody is subpoenaed you can get and instagram out of the cloud i assume. it is a problem. >> i have to ask one more question. i apologize in advance for this but given the 2016 presidential race and the gender dynamics we are all aware of i am wondering
if there is a woman in your book who transplanted 150 years later or whatever it is a would-be presidential material. >> sure. absolutely. i think somebody like arena davis comedy elizabeth blair lee, if they were, elizabeth blair lee, if they were in the the right situation, elizabeth blair lee, no one had so broad political experience. i found the obituaries fascinating. i was surprised there even were obituaries. the only person i couldn't find any big to wear a for which was elizabeth ceckley which tells you about the time.
given the ability to have -- they could have done it easily. >> you couldn't make the argument some of those women had to deal with more constraints. >> absolutely. not to mention they would lose children all the time. it is heartbreaking to read how many children they lost. during the war everyone using -- losing children. they lost sons who were 2 years old at the time. falling off of the top of a building. her husband, montgomery meigs, we know 1 october, lost a free-year-old and a 10-year-old in some disease that came through. just living through the day was
incredibly difficult and still they were as interested and involved in politics and policy as they were. i find that so incredibly admirable. they couldn't vote. married women couldn't own property. they were the property of their husbands and still very enormoustheir enormous dedication to the country and making it come out right. >> we have time for one more question. >> i was just wondering in hearing the about these remarkable women who are accomplished so much in the face of so much discrimination lack of opportunity, what to you see
now currently as being continuing odds? >> there is discrimination, difficult in some fields and still true, i personally think the biggest problem is the workplace needs to be 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 board to do their best work as possible and still be a competitive society. i think that is a challenge that needs to be met but i also do feel, don't get upset modern lw m