Read an Excerpt of Cokie Roberts' New Book

And that republic was ever expanding. From the first census in 1790 to the last census in this time frame, in 1820, the population had more than doubled to more than nine and a half million. The center of population had moved from the Atlantic seaboard, around Chestertown, Mary land, to what's now West Virginia. Over horrible roads and in dreadful conditions the westward movement over those thirty years was about the same as it has been in the thirty years between the 1970 and 2000 head counts. And as the country moved, bursting with basically unfettered capitalism, it was the women who realized that there were some people left out of this energetic expansion. So women set up the social- ser vice networks to protect the less fortunate. And as they came to understand the conditions of the poor, the women became reformers. The benevolent societies started in the early nineteenth century turned in many cases into associations arguing for the abolition of slavery and then, eventually, to expanding the suffrage. Women ever so slowly came to understand that they needed the power of the vote in order to achieve their social ends.

How could it have taken so long? It's almost impossible for me to wrap my mind around the fact that my mother was born before women had the right to vote. And it's almost equally impossible for my daughter, despite her well- internalized indoctrination by her foremothers, to comprehend completely that I had graduated from college before employment discrimination against women was outlawed. And I am confident that my granddaughters will be amazed that their mother was a grown woman before America elected a female president. There are generations of women, and their male champions, to thank for those changes, starting with these ladies of liberty who truly did shape our nation.

Click here to read more of Cokie Robert's "Ladies of Liberty."

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