When Cokie Roberts asks children to look at a picture depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence, she always asks them what is missing.
After the "hysterical answers," one young girl usually raises her hand and says "there are no women."
And therein lies the problem, according to the veteran journalist.
"I will say, 'Do you think there were women? Maybe there weren't any women then ...' " said Roberts, an ABC News political commentator. "That is the way they learn history, as if there were no women. They need to understand that the other half of the human race was very instrumental in the creation of this country."
Which is why Roberts, an Emmy winner and NPR contributor, took her 2004 New York Times bestseller "Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation" and turned it into a recently released children's book "Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies."
As the keynote speaker at the March 3 East Bay Women's Conference in San Ramon, Roberts said everyone can learn from those Revolution-era women, such as Martha Washington and Abigail Adams, the forces behind the Founding Fathers.
She points out Abigail Adams worked and made the money for the family while fighting off the British when her husband John Adams was in Congress making nothing.
"They couldn't own property, but what (these women) were willing to put up with for the greater good was really impressive," Roberts said. "You can draw lots of lessons from them, like boldness and courage."
She knows about bold women; her mother Lindy Boggs was elected to her late husband's congressional seat after Roberts' father, U.S. Rep. Hale Boggs, died in a plane crash in 1972. Lindy Boggs, who died last year, was the first woman representative from Louisiana, serving for 18 years before retiring.
Deadpanning that women today "are basically sissies," Roberts says when she hears women lamenting about not being able to "do it all," she doesn't have much patience.
"Let me introduce you to your great-grandmother," says the no-nonsense Roberts.
The Founding Mothers often fought for the cause, ran a home, raised children and offered their husbands political advice.
"You can do exactly what you need to do, just get out there and do it and everybody needs you to do it," she said. "The community needs you and society needs you. I think that's totally empowering."
That likely will be her message when she addresses the more than 500 people expected to show up for the San Ramon conference, with its theme of "The Power of One." Actress Rita Moreno will also speak, and there will be breakout sessions, exhibitors and entertainment.
Roberts was chosen as keynote speaker because she has 40 years of broadcasting experience and is an extraordinary role model for women, said Marcie Hochhauser of the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, which puts on the conference.
"She has written about the great women of history to help remind us of the impact they had on our society and about the opportunities and challenges that face women today in the many roles we play," Hochhauser said.
This is not the first time Roberts has spent time in Northern California. She has family in the area, and remembers spending time at "malls in Contra Costa" talking to likely voters for news reports, she said.
As for prognosticating voters' readiness to elect a female president, Roberts said, "Of course the country is ready," but noted it has to be the right person at the right time, with money, backing and "the luck of the draw."
The Founding Mothers would be surprised that America has yet to have a female president, Roberts guessed.
"I think they would be amazed we had gone so long without one," she said. "But I think they would be shocked that it took 150 years for women to get the vote. They would think, 'What's wrong with you people?' "
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.