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Cokie Roberts Shares Passion for History with Lower School Students

Monday, February 27, 2017

We all know a lot about the Founding Fathers. But what about the women who helped shape our nation’s early history? Renowned journalist and author Cokie Roberts visited Heathwood on February 24 to share their stories with our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade students.

Roberts’ new children’s book, Ladies of Liberty, which is based on her bestselling book for adults by the same name, tells the stories of notable women who impacted America in countless ways, through their writing, their political activism, their commitment to social justice, and more. Featured women include Native American explorer Sacagawea, first lady Louisa Catherine Adams, African American poet Lucy Terry Prince, and philanthropist Isabella Graham.

Roberts talked to Heathwood students about these women’s accomplishments and about how difficult it can be to research the stories of even the most notable women of their time period.

When you look at pictures from the early days of U.S. history, Roberts noted, you’ll typically see nothing but men. “So I started wondering about the women who were missing from the pictures,” she said. But learning about these women proved difficult, because their stories were not considered important enough to be preserved in the historical record. So Ladies of Liberty and Roberts’ earlier book Founding Mothers required a challenging search for letters and diaries that may or may not have been preserved. That search, hard as it is, was entirely worthwhile, Roberts said, “because these women are very, very interesting people.”

Roberts, who was in Columbia for the Decked Edge Literary Festival, came to Heathwood at the request of Donnie Bain, Director of Heathwood’s Columbia Connections program. Seeing Deckled Edge as an opportunity to bring an author onto campus, Bain reached out to the festival’s organizing committee—but did not expect to be offered a writer of Roberts’ stature.

Widely known for her political commentary on ABC News and NPR, Roberts has spent more than 40 years in journalism, and has won countless awards, including three Emmys. She has been inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame, and was cited by the American Women in Radio and Television as one of the fifty greatest women in the history of broadcasting.  In addition to her reporting, Roberts has written six New York Times bestsellers, most dealing with the roles of women in U.S. history.

After talking about the women featured in Ladies of Liberty and Founding Mothers, Roberts fielded questions from the audience. Students wanted to know more about the women, the historical periods in which they lived, the experience of researching their lives, and what it’s like to be a journalist and writer.

In response to a question about what it’s like to write books, Roberts reinforced a message Heathwood faculty also frequently impart to their students. “The reason I’ve ended up being a successful author,” she said, “is that I went to a school where I had to write and write and write and write. I didn’t always like it. But I certainly learned how to do it.”

Having a writer of Roberts’ stature on campus, Bain said, is a direct result of the community contacts Heathwood has made through the Columbia Connections program, which was established to extend the school’s learning environment beyond the classroom by strengthening ties with leaders in the academic, cultural, scientific, non-profit, and business communities. “Community organizations like Deckled Edge have been so supportive as we’ve reached out to them about Columbia Connections,” Bain said. “So hopefully the relationships that we’re building will continue to create opportunities to bring distinguished guests like Cokie Roberts to campus.”