American Daughters

American Daughters

by Piper Huguley
Genres: Fiction / African American & Black / Historical
Published on April 2, 2024
Pages: 368
Format: eBook Source: Library

In the vein of America’s First Daughter, Piper Huguley’s historical novel delves into the remarkable friendship of Portia Washington and Alice Roosevelt, the daughters of educator Booker T. Washington and President Teddy Roosevelt.

At the turn of the twentieth century, in a time of great change, two women—separated by societal status and culture but bound by their expected roles as the daughters of famed statesmen—forged a lifelong friendship. 

Portia Washington’s father Booker T. Washington was formerly enslaved and spent his life championing the empowerment of Black Americans through his school, known popularly as Tuskegee Institute, as well as his political connections. Dedicated to her father’s values, Portia contributed by teaching and performing spirituals and classical music. But a marriage to a controlling and jealous husband made fulfilling her dreams much more difficult. 

When Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency, his eldest daughter Alice Roosevelt joined him in the White House. To try to win her father’s approval, she eagerly jumped in to help him succeed, but Alice’s political savvy and nonconformist behavior alienated as well as intrigued his opponents and allies. When she married a congressman, she carved out her own agendas and continued espousing women’s rights and progressive causes. 

Brought together in the wake of their fathers’ friendship, these bright and fascinating women helped each other struggle through marriages, pregnancies, and political upheaval, supporting each other throughout their lives.  

A provocative historical novel and revealing portrait, Piper Huguley’s American Daughters vividly brings to life two passionate and vital women who nurtured a friendship that transcended politics and race over a century ago. 

The premise of this book is a bit misleading. Alice Roosevelt and Portia Washington knew each other but they weren’t close friends. Such a thing wouldn’t have been possible at the time. Theodore Roosevelt was in trouble for even inviting Booker Washington to dinner at the White House at the time when they met.

I had read about Alice Roosevelt before but I didn’t know anything about Portia Washington. She was a talented musician who was torn between continuing her studies and doing what was expected of a woman of her time – getting married and having babies. She did study in Germany and had an opportunity to marry a German man. But she knew that marrying a white man meant that she couldn’t come back to the U.S. She ultimately decided to come back and married a horrible man.

That ends up being a theme in this book. There were no good, trifling men all over the place. Alice was determined to marry a man who she could get into the presidency. She picked an up and coming congressman but he wasn’t big on marriage. To be fair, he told her that but she pretty much bullied him into it. He cheated on her all the time. She returned the favor eventually with a long term affair.

Both of these women were making choices they felt they needed to in order to get ahead in a world that wasn’t ready to let them be themselves. This was a good introduction to both of their lives. It didn’t have the clunky dialogue that I’ve been seeing in a lot of historical fiction about real people recently. (So many books are trying to use dialogue to do exposition in the exact inverse of the “Show, not tell” directive. There are sentences like, “Hello, Annabeth my first cousin who I have not seen in 6 months since our aunt who lives in Fresno’s picnic.”) This book was a breath of fresh air in that regard. It was just frustrating to see them held back by the standards of the time and the men in their lives when they were capable of so much more.