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Video transcript

a Walter Isaacson with the Aspen Institute I'm sitting here with journalist and best-selling author Cokie Roberts talking about the founding mothers of our country and who do you classify as a founding mother the women who influenced the founding fathers we have this category of men that we call the founding fathers and they were the men who fomented revolution who wrote the documents that we consider the charters of freedom the Declaration of Independence the Constitution the Bill of Rights who fought the war and who were the Statesman who created the country I'd like to like look at some of the founding documents and let's take a look at the Declaration of Independence and right here you can see the terms used mankind one people did the drafters of the Declaration refer to men and women when they were referring to people or was it just men just men just white men really and actually when they thought about it it was really just property to white men but there was one woman who did try to get them to think about women and that was John Adams wife Abigail Adams and John Adams of course was one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence along with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and so but Abigail Adams by the way for a full year had been writing to her husband who was at Congress in Philadelphia and she was in Braintree Massachusetts she was writing to him saying declare independence for heaven's sakes it is time to declare independence the British are doing terrible things here declare independence and the men were not ready to do that they were nervous about it and another woman who was a British woman who had just come to America a few years before Esther d'hubert read who was married to Joseph Reed who was one of the founders was the same thing she was writing home to her brother in England and saying we might declare independence II so these women were on it and they they paid attention let's focus and weekend on Abigail because she is so important in there's this wonderful letter she writes you've just quoted it one of their many letters which he says you know I long to hear that you have declared an independancy and then she says and by the way and I'll read it to you and maybe you can discuss it with us in the new code of laws which I suppose will be necessary if we do make I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors because all men would be tyrants if they could so there's been a big debate on what exactly she meant to me there's no debate because she not only wrote that to John she also did write to her friend Marcy Otis Warren I said to John that he should pay attention to the problems of women as they write this new code of laws so she was thinking it through and of course at that time married women could not own property they were the prey were the property of their husbands so they had no legal rights and of course they had no political rights they couldn't vote they really could not participate and there she was so interested in what the country was going to be and being shut out of political participation and so she didn't want that to be the case she wanted women to be able to participate and also to be able to be legally recognized I'm sure she saw abuse by husbands and she was eager that that not continued let's read this carefully because it's one of the great documents she says if particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to foment a rebellion will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation and that was something that was a revolutionary principle no taxation without representation she's taking it to say we the women need representation and it was such a shocking thought that John Adams laughed at her and he did not normally laugh at her he trusted her political judgment and her political information but he in this case wrote the classic put-down which was oh you women really have all the power and if we actually gave it to you explicitly we poor men would not have any power at all he laughed at her what was she asking for well I suspect I mean we don't know because she never told us but I think because of the letter she wrote to mercy Warren that she was asking for some some kind of political rights in other words they wanted to vote or to vote or have some participation and she refers to it in other letters as well she says well if I can't vote at least I can be a political person she says I mean she does refer to it she says in another letter patriotism and the female breast is the least self-interested of virtues and what she's saying is we women are really better Patriots because we're suffering all the hardships and making all the sacrifices for the cause and if we win you men will be held in high acclaim and we won't even be able to vote so we're better Patriots oh so she railed against it so I do think that she was talking about the vote remember the ladies that letter is March of 1776 a few months before we declare independence II as she put it it's 70 years really before there's a suffragette movement that really pushes for the right to vote did the colonial women the founding mothers as you call them whether some of them who really were pushing for the right to vote well there were some writers who were and there was a an English woman Catherine McAuley whom they all read and she was very much in this camp and then Mary Wollstonecraft wrote the vindication of the rights of women and it came rocketing across the ocean and they all read that the men tease them about it you know she's a disciple of Wollstonecraft so they were writing about it and Judith Sargent Murray here in America also wrote about it so it was on the radar it was not something that they had never talked about but why does it take 70 years I think it's really hard to give up power and and it took a long time took a lot longer than that to actually achieve the vote and the reason the suffrage movement even really got started it got a little inkling in the sort of 1820s and that was because the women who were so devoted to making the lot of the poor and the underprivileged better that they became ardent social reformers and then abolitionists and then through their abolitionists and reform activities were at meetings where they were shut out not allowed to speak because they were women and that led them to suffrage and you had people like Lucretia Mott in 1821 beginning to call for suffrage and what you see really is that the arc of American history eventually bends towards including more and more people but it takes a long time and a lot of bravery and willingness to be ridiculed and it doesn't just happen on its own people have to push for it you have to have a whole social movement Thank You Koby