Read an Excerpt of Cokie Roberts' New Book

And that's the way it works with these women's letters. What a treat! In one often dashed- off page we find out about the issues of the day, and how the writer thinks they should be handled; who is having babies, and all too often losing them; what business transactions she's conducted; what's in fashion, who's in town, and just generally good gossip. Most are lively and fun and, especially, frank. We hear from these women on everything from politics to pregnancy and we see this period of history from their perspective.

My interest in the power of political wives comes from my own experiences growing up in politics. My own mother, Lindy Boggs, whose family was always in public office, found herself a congressional wife at the age of twenty- four, a Member of Congress herself at the age of fifty- seven, and ambassador to the Vatican at the age of eighty- one. She would be the first to say that a woman should be in any room where powerful decisions are made, but she is very interested about power behind-the-scenes versus the onstage role. Her decades of backstage experience swaying extremely powerful men—congressional leaders and presidents—made her much more successful once she was the player on the scene. Her biggest problem when she was actually elected to Congress, as my politician sister had warned her, was that she had to vote—to say yes or no—instead of seeming to side with everyone, cajoling them until they came to the conclusion she wanted. She was in a direct line of descendants from Dolley Madison, a brilliant people- person. When Dolley's husband was running for reelection, a member of the opposition party complimented the First Lady: "By her deportment in her own house you cannot discover who is her husband's friends or foes."

In the 1950s and '60s I watched my mother and the other political wives, along with the local African- American women who were their allies, run all the social ser vices in Washington—family and child ser vices homes for unwed mothers, for the homeless, for victims of domestic violence hospitals food banks you name it. They also ran their husbands' campaigns, the national political conventions, the voter registration drives, the presidential inaugurations, and all of the social events where many of the deals were struck that later became law. And of course they managed us kids as well, as we moved back and forth from our fathers' states to the federal city.

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