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NPR News Analyst Cokie Roberts Brings ‘Capital Dames’ To Spokane

The history of the Civil War has been long documented. But one area - the role of women- has gone mostly under the radar, until now. NPR’s Cokie Roberts has authored a new book on these women, titled Capital Dames.

We normally hear Cokie Roberts as news analyst on NPR, like on last Monday’s Morning Edition.

But this week, an audience in Spokane got to hear her live, focused mostly on her new book. This year is a civil war anniversary, which I’ll let her explain…

Roberts: “And it is the sesquicentennial, a word that’s very hard to say on the radio, of the Civil War actually ending. This year was the 150th anniversary of that. So it has been a period of a lot of interest in the war, and a lot of reenactments and a lot of books. And of course none of them were about women because that’s the way of the world.”

She says that was impetus for the book, which is fully titled ‘Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868’. She says some women ended up leaving Washington D.C. to get away from the war, and some women moved to D.C. to get involved.

Roberts: “It’s not that they weren’t involved in politics, and they were very interested in their husbands, or fathers, or brothers careers, but they were not necessarily interested in causes, per se. And that all completely changed with the war. They became purposeful people, some of the people who described themselves as ‘belles’ ended up as suffragists, or serious writers.”

In her book, one of several history books she has authored, she tells the story through the lives of women, specifically three from the south and three from the north. Those include Verina Davis, who, as the wife of Jefferson Davis became a journalist, and Virginia Clay-Clopton, whose husband was a senator.

Cokie Roberts is a senior news analyst for NPR. Her newest book is "Capital Dames"

Roberts: “And then a women named Sarah Pryor, whose husband was a newspaperman and a congressman from Virginia, and a really hotheaded rebel. She lived a life of tremendous depravation in the south. And then the three main northern women are Elizabeth Blaire Lee, and she because her husband was in the Navy, wrote copiously. And so we have hundreds and hundreds of her letters.”

Also from the north: Louisa Meggs whose husband was quartermaster general in the union army, and Jessie Benton Fremont whose people said was running for president, because of her public standing when her husband John Fremont was running.

NPR’s Cokie Roberts dug into books, letters from the era, and newspapers to research the belles, reformists, suffragists, and other women of the Civil War era.

Roberts: “And the newspaper writers of the time were very florid so they’re a lot of fun to read. And it’s so much fun, that you can waste an enormous time doing it, you just want to sit there and read the newspapers all day long.”

Roberts says it’s always been that the women have been ignored, and she is giving the women their due.

Copyright 2015 Spokane Public Radio

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