Founding Mothers Essay - Critical Context

Linda Grant De Pauw

Critical Context

Linda Grant De Pauw is a professor of history at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and most of her writing is scholarly, but she has written several books for juvenile readers. Founding Mothers, her first book, was written especially for the American bicentennial celebration in 1976 and was named an American Library Association Notable Book and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. These awards surprised De Pauw because she did not consider herself a juvenile author.

Founding Mothers is included in sales materials of the National Women’s History Project, headquartered in Windsor, California, and is often cited in books about women’s history written for adults.

Building on a theme she introduced in that book, De Pauw wrote Seafaring Women (1982), which chronicles the stories of women who went to sea—some in traditional roles (the wives of whalers and traders) and some mastering the sea as pirates and sailors. The author again punctuated her research with excerpts from letters and journals, and her chapter on seagoing careers should entice would-be sailors among young women.

Although De Pauw has not been a prolific writer for adolescents, she has made a significant contribution to their literature. By raising awareness of women’s roles in America’s past, she made evident the parallels to current views of women’s rights and roles. Moreover, her differentiation of women’s roles according to ethnicity and social class provides a more realistic overview of women’s contributions to society. Finally, because students generally prefer reading stories rather than factual data, nonfiction is often viewed as the stepchild of fiction, an opinion also precipitated by the lack of quality nonfiction. While De Pauw’s style of writing reflects her scholarly background, the fascinating information and anecdotes that she includes will entertain and act as a springboard for additional reading.