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First Ladies: Abigail Smith Adams - History

First Ladies: Abigail Smith Adams - History



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First Ladies: Abigail Smith Adams


Abigail Adams

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Abigail Adams, née Abigail Smith, (born November 22 [November 11, Old Style], 1744, Weymouth, Massachusetts [U.S.]—died October 28, 1818, Quincy, Massachusetts, U.S.), American first lady (1797–1801), the wife of John Adams, second president of the United States, and mother of John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States. She was a prolific letter writer whose correspondence gives an intimate and vivid portrayal of life in the young republic.

What did Abigail Adams do to change the world?

Abigail Adams’s grandson Charles Francis Adams concluded that she had played a significant role in the career of her husband, John Adams, particularly in managing the family farm and his business affairs. She was also known as an advocate of women’s rights, particularly the right to an education, and she favoured the abolition of slavery.

What were Abigail Adams’s contributions?

One of Abigail Adams’s contributions was her oversight of the family’s move to the newly constructed presidential mansion in Washington, D.C. On New Year’s Day, 1801, she opened the mansion, later known as the White House, to visitors, continuing a tradition begun by the Washingtons and maintained by every subsequent first lady until 1933.

What was Abigail Adams’s legacy?

Until modern times, few first ladies shared Abigail Adams’s interest in politics or the treatment of government leaders by the press. Although her approach to the office of first lady was in many ways advanced, her fame rests on her thousands of letters, which form an eloquent and evocative description of her life and times.

Born to William Smith, a Congregational minister, and Elizabeth Quincy Smith, Abigail was the second of four children. Educated entirely at home, she read widely in her father’s large library, and the constant flow of interesting, intelligent, and well-educated guests at the Smith home turned her into a learned, witty young woman. For her introduction to great literature, she credited her brother-in-law, Richard Cranch.

Abigail’s plans to marry John Adams, a Harvard-educated lawyer nine years her senior, did not gain the immediate approval of Smith, who considered a lawyer’s prospects inadequate. When they married on October 25, 1764, the bride’s father, who performed the ceremony, amused the guests by citing a passage from the Book of Luke: “John came neither eating bread nor drinking wine and some say he has a devil in him.” During the first 10 years of their marriage Abigail gave birth to five children, including a daughter who died in infancy and John Quincy Adams.

She managed the second decade of her marriage on her own, as John participated in the colonial struggle for independence as a member of the Continental Congress and later as a representative of his country in France. Their correspondence during these years, especially when added to the spirited letters penned earlier during their courtship, provides a rich account of their activities and thinking as well as their love and devotion to each other. It is from these letters that historians, including the Adamses’ grandson Charles Francis Adams, have concluded that Abigail played a significant role in her husband’s career, particularly in managing the family farm and his business affairs. Because of her, the Adamses avoided the financial ruin that befell some other early presidents, such as Thomas Jefferson, after they left office.

As the revolutionary spirit swept through the colonies, Abigail firmly supported the movement for independence. In March 1776, when her husband prepared to gather with his colleagues to write a statement of principles that would soon be adopted by the Continental Congress as the Declaration of Independence, she asked him to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.” Although this letter has often been cited, correctly, as evidence of her fervent desire for women’s rights, she did not champion, then or later, the right of women to vote, a position virtually unheard of at the time. She did, however, strongly support a woman’s right to education, and in 1778 she wrote her husband that “you need not be told how much female education is neglected, nor how fashionable it has been to ridicule female learning.” She also favoured the abolition of slavery.

In 1784 Abigail joined her husband in Europe, when he began serving as American minister to Britain. Her letters from Paris and London contain descriptive musings on British royalty, French customs, and the superiority of the quiet life of an American farmer. She wrote in early 1788 that she much preferred her “own little farm” to “the court of Saint James’s where I seldom meet with characters so inoffensive as my Hens and chickings.” Later that year the Adamses returned to the United States when John assumed the vice presidency in 1789, Abigail divided her time between the capital city (first New York City and then, in 1790, Philadelphia) and the family home in Massachusetts. She missed her husband’s presidential inauguration in March 1797 in order to care for his sick mother, and during his presidency she often stayed in Massachusetts to look after family matters.

As first lady, she kept a rigorous daily schedule, rising at 5:00 am to manage a busy household and receive callers for two hours each day. Unlike Martha Washington, who had been a gracious hostess but avoided all political discussions, Abigail involved herself in the most interesting debates of the day. As the two major political factions, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists (later the Jeffersonian Republicans), developed into political parties in the 1790s, she pointed out her husband’s friends and foes in both groups. About Alexander Hamilton, who along with Adams was a leading Federalist, she wrote that she saw in his eyes “the very devil…lasciviousness itself.” She judged Albert Gallatin, a Republican opponent of her husband, “sly, artfull…insidious.” Her critics objected that the wife of the president should not insinuate herself in political discussions Gallatin wrote, “She is Mrs. President not of the United States but of a faction.…It is not right.”

In November 1800, just as the election that denied John Adams a second term as president was being held, Abigail oversaw the Adamses’ move from Philadelphia to the newly constructed presidential mansion in Washington, D.C. Her letters to family members showed her displeasure at finding the building roughly finished and unfurnished, but she warned her daughter not to reveal her thoughts, since people would think her ungrateful. On New Year’s Day 1801 she opened the mansion, soon to be known as the White House, to visitors, continuing a tradition begun by the Washingtons and maintained by every subsequent first lady until 1933.

After leaving office, Abigail and John retired to their home in Massachusetts. She continued a lively correspondence with many people and even resumed writing to Thomas Jefferson, from whom she had been estranged as a result of political differences. She died in October 1818 and was buried in the First Church of Quincy her husband, who died in 1826, was buried beside her.

Until the 20th century few first ladies shared Abigail Adams’s interest in politics or in the treatment of government leaders by the press. She vigorously objected to what she considered inaccurate reporting on her husband and son. But she was not altogether surprised by the “lies [and] Falshoods,” writing in 1797 to her sister that she “expected to be vilified and abused, with my whole family.” Although her approach to the office of first lady was in many ways advanced, her fame rests primarily on her thousands of letters, which form an eloquent and evocative description of her life and times.


Abigail Adams

Inheriting New England’s strongest traditions, Abigail Smith was born on November 22, 1744 at Weymouth, Massachusetts. On her mother’s side she was descended from the Quincys, a family of great prestige in the colony her father and other forebears were congregational ministers, leaders in a society that held its clergy in high esteem.

Although Abigail did not receive a formal education, her curiosity spurred her keen intelligence, and her mother taught her to read and write as she developed into an avid reader. Reading created a bond between her and John Adams, a Harvard graduate and lawyer. They were married on October 25, 1764. It was a marriage of the mind and of the heart, enduring for more than half a century, enriched by time.

The young couple lived on John’s small farm at Braintree or in Boston as his practice expanded. In twelve years she gave birth to three sons and three daughters two daughters did not survive early childhood. While John Adams traveled as a circuit judge, Abigail looked after the family and home. “Alass!” she wrote in December 1773, "How many snow banks devide thee and me . . .”

Long separations kept Abigail from her husband while he served the country they loved, as delegate to the Continental Congress, envoy abroad, elected officer under the Constitution. Her letters—pungent, witty, and vivid, spelled just as she spoke—detail her life in times of revolution. They tell the story of the woman who stayed at home to struggle with wartime shortages and inflation to run the farm with a minimum of help to teach four children when formal education was interrupted. Most of all, they tell of her loneliness without her “dearest Friend.” That “one single expression," she said, “dwelt upon my mind and playd about my Heart.”

In 1784, she joined her husband at his diplomatic post in Paris and observed with interest the manners of the French. After 1785, she filled the difficult role of wife of the first United States Minister to Great Britain with dignity and tact. In 1788 Abigail and John returned to their home in Quincy, Massachusetts, called Peacefield.

As wife of the first vice president, Abigail became a good friend to Martha Washington and a valued help in official entertaining, drawing on her experience at courts and society abroad. She moved to Philadelphia when her husband became vice president, occasionally traveling back to Quincy and running the farm through correspondence with her sister. When John Adams was elected president, she continued a formal pattern of entertaining — even in the primitive conditions she found at the new capital and White House in November 1800. The city was underdeveloped, the President's House far from completion. Her private complaints to her family provide blunt accounts of both, but for her three months in Washington she duly held her dinners and receptions.

The Adamses retired to Quincy in 1801, and for 17 years enjoyed the companionship that public life had long denied them. Abigail died on October 28, 1818 of typhoid fever and is buried beside her husband in United First Parish Church. She leaves her country a most remarkable record as patriot and first lady, wife of one president and mother of another.


The Evolution of First Lady Fashion From 1789 to Today

Fashion is a powerful tool, especially for someone in the public eye as much as the first lady. For decades, these women have used garments like lace dresses, low-cut tops, or the famous pantsuit (hi, Hillary!) to communicate with the American people. When successful, a first lady can use her clothing to her advantage to relay a message, other times not so much. Take a trip down memory lane with 40 leading ladies and the fashion that made a statement during their time in the White House.

As one of the richest women of the late 18th century, Martha Washington had more than enough room to experiment with fashion. She was able to choose between the finest fabrics for her gown, cloak, headpiece, and gloves, as seen here. Her most notable piece of fashion, royal purple silk wedding shoes from her wedding to George, is considered "the Manolo Blahniks of her time."

Unlike other first ladies, Abigail Adams actually rejected French fashion, opting for high-up embroidered collars. In a letter to her sister, she wrote about her agreement with a local preacher against the latest fashion, noting that he "thinks there are some ladies in this city, who stand in need of admonition, and I fully agree with him."

After her mother passed away when she was young, Martha Jefferson Randolph assumed the role of first lady when her father, Thomas Jefferson, took office in 1801. Though she wasn't often at the White House, she usually wore the latest Victorian fashions like a frilly hat with a purple bow.

As a former Quaker, Dolley Madison was used to wearing more modest clothing, but that changed when she left the faith. She then started wearing low-cut dresses made famous during the Napoleonic Era that were rich in color, with fabrics that made her "look like a Queen" to spectators.

Before her husband became president, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe lived abroad in Paris and London for four years. Used to European fashion, she usually wore cap sleeve dresses and shawls at White House functions. Her adoption of French clothing combined with her physical beauty earned her the nickname, &ldquoLa Belle Americane.&rdquo

Louisa Catherine Adams didn't like to follow society rules, and is said to be the first first lady to wear makeup, using homemade face powder and lipstick against her husband's wishes. She often was forced to wear dark dresses that contrasted with her pale skin, making her want to use the makeup so she wouldn't be &ldquoa fright in the midst of the splendor.&rdquo

Helping her widowed uncle, President Martin Van Buren, Angelica Singleton Van Buren became the first lady at 21 years old. Keeping up with the trends of the time, she liked to wear her hair in tight ringlets, often using feathers as hair accessories with off-the-shoulder gowns.

Like most women of the 19th century, Sarah Childress Polk was obsessed with Parisian fashion. She reportedly wore elegant gowns and headdresses imported from France, made from expensive material of velvet, satin, and silk, which were often decorated with imported fringe, ribbons, and lace.

Very conscious of her appearance to others, Abigail Powers Fillmore hired someone to do her hair and design special dresses for public occasions. She was the first first lady to have items made on a sewing machine, hence why this dress pictured here is more advanced than previous first lady fashion.

On the way to her husband's inauguration, Jane Pierce got in a train accident that killed their 11-year-old son, Benjamin. Jane then spent the first two years as first lady in mourning, only wearing black dresses and accessories like the ones seen here.

The niece of James Buchanan is considered to be the Jackie Kennedy of her time. Most notably, she made national headlines for her "very" low-cut European-style dress that she wore to her uncle's inauguration. The dress, pictured here, was a hit among women, and bodices dropped an inch or two almost instantly.

Like we said in the previous slide, Lane Johnston's dress was a hit. The next first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, loved the dress style so much she wore something similar to her husband's inauguration. As you can see, she liked her items lavish and is said to have gone $20,000 over the Congressional budget due to her spending habits.

Eliza McCardle Johnson, like many other first ladies, didn't want much publicity. Therefore, she usually wore more conservative items like dark dresses with high collars and shawls concealing most of her hair.

According to the National Museum of American History, Julia Dent Grant is said to have chosen American-made clothing that were &ldquo&hellip becoming to my person and the condition of my purse.&rdquo This usually meant rich fabrics with some jewelry made of pearls or diamonds.

Sticking to the modest clothing trends of the time, Lucy Webb Hayes usually wore modest embroidered dresses in soft colors that covered her throat and arms.

While she may have been first lady for only a short period of time, a.k.a. around six months, Lucretia Garfield kept up with the latest fashion. She wore a lavender gown with a high collar to her husband's inaugural ball in 1881, as seen here.

Frances Folsom Cleveland was a rule-breaker and caused many controversies when she continually donned dresses that showed off her bare neck, shoulders, and arms. (I mean how gorgeous is this dress though?!) According to Time, the Women&rsquos Christian Temperance Union got so fed up that they issued a petition asking her to stop wearing these dresses. She ignored them.

Caroline Scott Harrison's fashion choices as first lady deemed her, by The Philadelphia Times, "a sensible exemplar for American women." This was due to her modest wardrobe, featuring gowns with beaded details and floral patterns in neutral colors (almost always) made in America.

During a trip to Belgium, Ida Saxton McKinley was so shocked by what the workers went through to make the lace she bought, so she did as much as she could to help support them. According to the National First Ladies' Library, this meant a majority of her custom-made dresses featured a significant amount of lace. This inspired many other women to try to replicate the same look.

Edith Kermit Roosevelt liked her privacy and often wore the popular high-waisted dresses with trim skirts and gathered sleeves. She would often wear the same outfit over and over to throw off reporters and make them believe she had a larger closet than she did.

The "H" in "Helen Herron Taft" stands for "hats." Okay, maybe not like officially, but the former first lady was known to have a large collection back in the day. She was also the first first lady to donate her inaugural gown for public display.

It's said that Ellen Louise Wilson spent less than $1,o00 a year on outfits, which is something that would seem totally unheard of today. She often wore plain or patterned high-waisted dresses.

Woodrow Wilson's second wife mainly wore dark dresses, often with lace, but they were still highly fashionable. Most of her items came from the House of Worth in Paris.

Florence Harding often wore heavily-beaded dresses and fur pieces. This dress, pictured here, is so heavy that the dress has to be laid down sideways to avoid ruin when not on display. Crazy, I know!

Compared to her partner, Grace Goodhue Coolidge liked to make a statement and vocalized that through her clothing. She often wore sleek shift dresses in bright colors with outlandish hats. According to the National Museum of American History, her husband would surprise her and pick out her outfits.

During the Great Depression, Lou Henry Hoover kept things simple. She usually wore American-made dresses, emphasizing the importance of cotton clothing to promote the cotton textile industry.

Large hats were the staple of Eleanor Roosevelt's style. They were often worn with long skirts or dresses that kept up with the conservative aesthetic she wanted to accomplish.

Not used to being the center of attention, Elizabeth "Bess" Truman liked to wear pieces that allowed her to blend into the background and wouldn't be front-page news. This meant her wardrobe consisted of patterned shirtwaist dresses with tea-length skirts, as pictured here.

Mamie Doud Eisenhower wore this bubblegum pink shade so much during her time as first lady. It eventually became known as "Mamie pink" and was donned by most women in the '50s and early '60s.

During her time as first lady and for years after, Jackie O. designed most of her clothes. She's probably the most memorable fashionable first lady in history, and it's easy to see why.


"Remember the Ladies" Abigail Adams Analysis

1. What are some of the key ideas of the letters between John and Abigail Adams?

The first idea is to remember the ladies. She states that men should not be given all the power. If the ladies are paid no attention it was bound to inspire a rebellion against this tyrant like behavior. If women have no voice, they will not be happy. If men need the title of master women will act differently than if they called themselves their wives’ friend. All these ideas are voiced in the letter she wrote. John expressed his ideas about women and how he thinks they should not vote in the new government. Both made valid points.

Reactions, Connections, Thoughts, Feelings:
I feel John Adams was not considerate enough toward the request to “Remember the Ladies”. I also feel that Mr. Adams had no place dictating women in the society of new America as everyone was dictated by Britain. No man is created equal if women are not equalized the same way. This can be connected to the feminist movement because if it was in the rules of society/government, we could vote and the movement would have never been necessary. Now, because the equality of women was not established in the first documents of our history we are not paid as equally as men and we have to fight for our reproductive rights to contraception. We even pay more for health care than men. We even have to pay up to 150% more than men for health care. I believe if equality for women was established long ago we would not have to have dealt with these issues. I was surprised though how Abigail had the courage to write and try to defend the rights of women back then as they were to know their place in society.

2. What does Abigail Adams threaten to do if women are not given representation in the new laws of the land?

She says the women will be determined to cause a rebellion and that they will not obey the laws without some kind of representation or voice.


Marriage to John Adams

With a busy law practice, John spent a lot of time away from home. This situation only worsened as he became an active member of the American Revolution and the Revolutionary War. Abigail was often left to carry much of the burden at home, raising their children and caring for the family farm. The couple remained close through continuous and intimate correspondence with each other. It is believed that they exchanged more than 1,100 letters.

As John was busy hammering out a new government, Abigail expressed concern about how women would be treated. In one of her many letters to her husband, she requested that he “Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.” Odd spellings aside, Abigail often expressed her thoughts on political matters with her husband. Throughout her husband&aposs career, Abigail served as his unofficial adviser. Their letters show him seeking her counsel on many issues, including his presidential aspirations.

After the revolution, Abigail joined her husband in France and later in England, where he served from 1785 to 1788 as the first American minister to the Court of St. James. When her husband became vice president the next year, Abigail stayed with him in the capital for only part of the time, often returning to Massachusetts to look after their farm and to tend other business matters. While in the capital, in New York, she helped First Lady Martha Washington with entertaining dignitaries and other officials.


First Ladies: Abigail Adams

Abigail Smith was born on November 22, 1744 in Weymouth, Massachusetts to William Smith and Elizabeth Quincy Smith. Although she received no formal education, her mother taught her and her sisters to read and write and she had access to a large family library, where she could study English and French literature.

A young Abigail Adams

Abigail had known John Adams, her third cousin, since childhood. The couple married on October 25, 1764 and would have six children together. Their last child, a daughter, was stillborn, and another daughter died around the age of two years old. Abigail raised four children to adulthood. One soon would die while her husband was in office and another son would become President of the United States .

Abigail and John’s marriage is well documented through their correspondence and other writings. John confided in his wife, and she was responsible for the farm and children while her husband was away on his numerous trips.

While John Adams was in Paris, France for diplomatic reasons, Abigail and their daughter, Nabby, joined him. During this time, Abigail served as hostess to the various dignitaries the couple entertained.

Abigail did not attend her husband’s inauguration, as her mother was in ill health, and she attended to the older woman before her death.

While John Adams was President, Abigail continued her pattern of formal entertaining. Each week she held a large dinner, along with making public appearances on a regular basis and providing entertainment for the Fourth of July celebrations in Philadelphia. Unlike her predecessor, Lady Washington, Abigail Adams took an active role in politics.

Abigail Adams cared for the children of several family members that suffered from alcoholism and even brought them to live with her and John, during his Presidency.

Abigail Adams

She became the first wife of a President, to live in the President’s Mansion during the last four months of her husband’s presidency. The house, while still unfinished, was surrounded by thick woods. Abigail described the home as “habitable” and the location “beautiful” but complained of the woods and difficulty in finding someone to chop wood for the first family.

Her health, which was never great, suffered while in Washington.

Abigail witnessed her son, Charles, die of alcoholism. She raised his daughter and several other grandchildren, upon her and John’s return to their home in Quincy, Massachusetts. Her daughter, Nabby, died in 1813 of breast cancer, after a three year battle.

Abigail died on October 28, 1818 of typhoid fever, just two weeks shy of her 74 th birthday. Her last words were, “Do not grieve, my friend, my dearest friend. I am ready to go. And John, it will not be long.”

Due to her extensive collection of correspondence, Abigail Adams is one of the First Ladies we know a lot about. Historians estimate that there are approximately 1200 letters in existence between John and Abigail Adams.


Abigail, The First Feminist

Abigail was born Abigail Smith in Weymouth, Ma on Nov. 11, 1744 to Elizabeth Quincy Smith and William Smith.

Young Abigail Smith was romantic, energetic and intelligent, at the same time shy and very determined, a mix that seemed to always lead to her being in trouble and causing mischief.

Young Abigail

She was educated at home, only young men were given formal training but, she overcame this minor setback by the use of her maternal grandfather’s extensive library. Miss Smith excelled in academics with a preference for math, philosophy, and government. With no formal education, she was very self-conscious about her inability to spell and punctuate properly or to speak or read French. Even so, Abigail was a devoted reader of history and an astute judge of its impact upon her own time.

Abigail and John

Abigail had known John Adams her entire life, after all, they were third cousins. That relationship did not stop him from professing his love and asking for her hand.

Their wedding, on October 25, 1764, began one of history’s great partnerships. They were lovers, friends, counselors, and mentors to one another into old age. John did not resent his wife’s abilities to manage a farm and raise a family without him during his long absences on the nation’s business. Rather, he took considerable pride in her accomplishments. He told her she was so successful in budgeting, planting, managing staff, regulating livestock, buying provisions, nursing and educating her children, that their neighbors would surely remark on how much better things seemed to go in his absence.

Abigail as Our Founder

Abigail Adams is known for many accomplishments, but a favored recount is of her melting down her pewter dinnerware and household items to make ammunition for the soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

Around the time of the Revolutionary War, Abigail Adams served the Massachusetts Colony General Court who commissioned her, along with a few other women, to talk to ladies in the area who were loyal to the British. This was only the first of her dealings with women’s influence in politics.

Abigail’s Famous Letters

Because Abigail and her husband were away from each other often for extended periods, the two of them corresponded through lengthy letters. In some of these letters, Abigail urged her husband, during the days surrounding the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, to pay attention to the rights of women. She believed women’s rights should be equal to those of the men. She did not bring the founding fathers around to her way of thinking, but she continued to campaign for various equalities for females, including the right to a formal education.

Abigail continued to speak up for married women’s property rights and more opportunities for women, particularly in education. She believed that women should not submit to laws clearly not made in their interest and that women should not content themselves with the role of being decorous companions to their husbands. She believed women should educate themselves and be recognized for their intellectual capabilities, for their ability to shoulder responsibilities of managing household, family, and financial affairs, and for their capacity to morally guide and influence the lives of their children and husbands. Although Abigail did not insist on full female enfranchisement in her celebrated letter of March, 1776, she exhorted her husband to

“remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a Rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation.”

A trip to southern areas strengthened Abigail’s conviction, passionately shared by her husband, that slavery was not only evil, but a threat to the American freedom experiment. Neither John nor Abigail had any use for southern slavery accommodationists. On March 31, 1776, Abigail wrote that she doubted the distinguished Virginians in the corridors of power had quite the “passion for Liberty” they claimed, since they had been used to “depriving their fellow Creatures” of freedom.

In 1798, during Adams’s term in the presidency, Abigail was concerned about the influence of the French revolution and troubled by rumors of a forthcoming French invasion of America. She urged her husband to declare war on France. Upset by criticism of her husband and herself in the Republican press for having appointed relatives to important posts, she wrote that “the Liberty of the press is become licentious beyond any former period.” Although the president and Congress hesitated to go to war, Congress passed the repressive Alien and Sedition Acts. The Sedition Act allowed those who criticized the policies of John Adams to be tried for sedition and possibly treason. In what was seen as disturbing, Abigail approved. Adams’s opponents expressed that Abigail’s partisanship was too overt and her influence on the president too great.

Excerpts from Abigail’s letters to her husband…depicted as they were written, highlighted font added for emphasis:

I wish most sincerely there was not a slave in this province. It always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me — to fight for ourselves what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have.

November 1775 (The famous “Remember the Ladies” letter)

I long to hear that you have declared an independency.

And by the way, in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would

Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.

Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend.

Why, then, not put it out of the power of the

vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and

indignity with impunity? Men of Sense in all

Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as

the vassals of your sex regard us then as Beings

placed by Providence under your protection, and

in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of

that power only for our happiness.

May 1776

Whilst you are proclaiming peace and good will to men, emancipating all nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over wives. But you must remember that arbitrary power is like most other things which are very hard, very liable to be broken — and notwithstanding all your wise laws and maxims we have it in our power not only to free ourselves but to subdue our masters, and without violence throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet.

August 1776

If you complain of neglect of Education in sons, what shall I say with regard to daughters, who every day experience the want of it?

With regard to the Education of my own children, I find myself soon out of my depth, destitute and deficient in every part of Education.

I most sincerely wish that some more liberal plan might be laid and executed for the Benefit of the rising Generation, and that our new Constitution may be distinguished for encouraging Learning and Virtue.

If we mean to have Heroes Statesmen and Philosophers, we should have learned women. The world perhaps would laugh at me and accuse me of vanity, But you I know have a mind too enlarged and liberal to disregard the Sentiment.

If much depends as is allowed upon the early

education of youth and the first principles which

are instill’d take the deepest root, great benefit

must arise from literary accomplishments in women.

August 1776

I regret the narrow contracted education of the

females of my own country.

May 1780

Patriotism in the female sex is the most disinterested of all virtues. Excluded from honors and from offices, we cannot attach ourselves to the State or Government from having held a place of eminence. Even in the freest countries our property is subject to the control and disposal of our partners, to whom the laws have given a sovereign authority.

Deprived of a voice in legislation, obliged to submit to those laws which are imposed upon us, is it not sufficient to make us indifferent to the public welfare? Yet all history and every age exhibit instances of patriotic virtue in the female sex which considering our situation equals the most heroic of yours.

Abigail Adams, the new nation’s first Feminist/Activist would not live to see the movement grow to the point of not only assuring the rights she fought for but, many more. Nor would she live to see her son, John Quincy, become the sixth President.

Abigail Adams died on October 28, 1818 of typhoid fever.

These were her last words: “Do not grieve, my friend, my dearest friend. I am ready to go. And John, it will not be long.”

She was buried in the cemetery of First Church in Quincy. John Adams died in 1826 during the presidency of John Quincy Adams.

This but scratches the surface of the life of one of our “Founding Mothers”, one of the many of whom we hear so little.

http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=2 https://www.biography.com/people/abigail-adams-9175670 http://www.history.com/topics/first-ladies/abigail-adams https://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/letter/ https://www.thoughtco.com/abigail-adams-biography-3525085

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Abigail Adams: America’s First Ladies #2

Abigail Adams was the wife of John Adams, the second president of the United States. Much is known about her life because of the extensive correspondence she left behind. Rather than burning it to preserve her privacy, as was common at the time after a prominent woman died, her family preserved it. This is her story.

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We continue our series on the First Ladies of the United States by taking a look at the second one… Abigail Adams. Wife of the 2nd US president, John Adams, Abigail’s life is one of the most carefully and closely documented of the early first ladies, thanks in large part to the numerous letters she wrote to John and other friends and family members which her descendants carefully preserved as important historical documents.

Born November 22, 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts to the Reverend William Smith and Elizabeth Quincy, Abigail was the second of four children born to her parents. These children included three daughters and one son. The son died of alcoholism at 41 years old, a family affliction that would take its toll on future generations of Abigail’s family, including her own son, Charles Adams, who died of alcoholism at age 30.

On her mother’s side, Abigail was a cousin of Dorothy Quincy, who became the wife of fellow Revolutionary, John Hancock. She was also a great-granddaughter, through her mother’s family of the first Puritan minister of the only 17th-century Puritan meetinghouse still standing in Massachusetts today, the Old Ship Church in Hingham, Massachusetts.

Though she did not receive formal schooling, which was common for girls of the day (and which may also have been attributed to her poor health as a child), Abigail nonetheless was taught to read, write, and do basic math by her mother and maternal grandmother, and was also given free use of her father and uncle’s extensive libraries. She loved to read, and began reading both English and French literature with other women in groups as she grew up. Abigail became intellectually quite open-minded, which was unusual for women from Puritan families in Massachusetts at that time. Her reading in diverse subjects growing up led her to be a strong proponent of women’s rights, and her influence on her husband in these matters had an indirect influence on the founding documents of the United States.

Abigail and John Adams were third cousins and had known each other since they were children. On a visit to her home in 1762, John became enamored of his petite, pretty cousin for the first time, after noticing she always had her face firmly in front of a book. He admired her intellectual capacity and ability to discuss and quote literature, poetry, and philosophy with him. He asked for her hand in marriage, which she accepted and her father approved. However, her mother believed 17-year-old Abigail could do better than a mere country lawyer like John, and so it was another two years before her mother gave into the couple’s obvious love for one another and consented to the marriage. Abigail’s father married them on October 25, 1764.

Moving to a small cottage farm in Braintree that John had inherited, the couple left Abigail’s home on horseback (just one horse) immediately after the ceremony, and she set about the work of becoming a wife and mother, giving birth to her first child, Abigail (who the family called “Nabby”) just nine months after the wedding.

Over the next 12 years, Abigail gave birth to six children, four of whom survived infancy (the sixth, a daughter, was stillborn). Her children were, in order, Abigail, John Quincy, Susanna, Charles, Thomas, and Elizabeth. John Quincy became the sixth president of the United States. Elizabeth was stillborn. Susanna died at two years old. Charles died of alcoholism at 30, and Nabby died of breast cancer (after undergoing a drastic and unusual for the time mastectomy, with no anesthetic other than a drink of strong alcohol) at 48 years old. Only John Quincy and Thomas outlived both John and Abigail.

Abigail and John moved to Boston as his law practice gained in prestige, though they always maintained the Braintree farm. Abigail focused on teaching her children to be good citizens and examples of the Adams heritage. Letters she exchanged with John when he was away on long trips, which he was often on, reveal John genuinely respected and trusted Abigail in every way, leaving their home and finances completely in her charge when he was away. They also reveal his need for her approval. In addition, the very real and lasting love and affection between the pair is evident in just about every letter between them, even in ones in which they are disagreeing. There is no doubt Abigail and John were deeply in love, and real friends, as well, during their entire marriage. It’s something not many people of any age or era can boast.

Abigail spent five years separated from John and John Quincy when John was appointed as ambassador to Great Britain and took John Quincy with him. Abigail and Nabby eventually joined them, leaving Charles and Thomas with her relatives in Massachusetts. She became a temporary guardian to Thomas Jefferson’s youngest surviving daughter, Mary, when she came to join her father in Paris, where he was an ambassador, and the two developed a close friendship that lasted the rest of Mary’s life.

After four years abroad in both Great Britain and France, the Adamses (minus John Quincy, who was in Russia as an assistant to the American ambassador there), returned to Massachusetts. Abigail set about expanding and improving upon the house they bought in Quincy. This became the home of the next three generations of Adamses and was donated to the US government in 1946, where it is open today as a museum to John, Abigail, John Quincy, and their descendants through that line.

Of course, Abigail spent plenty of time in NYC and Philadelphia, too, after John became the nation’s first vice-president, and then its second president. She got used to throwing big parties and hosting large dinners while in Europe, and continued the tradition as First Lady, in contrast to the more quiet and introverted Martha Washington. She was also the 1st First Lady to get to live in the White House when the young nation’s capital was moved to Washington, D.C. While she only lived there for the last four months of John’s presidency, she expressed a liking for the house, and considered the swampy D.C. area beautiful. However, she did not miss it when they went back to Massachusetts, as the hot, humid weather there did nothing good for her already fragile health.

After retiring from politics following his defeat to Thomas Jefferson in his bid for presidential re-election, John and Abigail returned to their home in Quincy, where they focused on farming, following John Quincy’s burgeoning political career, and raising several grandchildren, including the two daughters of her late son, Charles, and John Quincy’s children during his many trips abroad.

Abigail Adams Statue in Boston

Abigail died of typhoid two weeks before her 74th birthday, on October 28, 1818, and was buried in the crypt inside the United First Parish Church in Quincy. John joined her there, beside her as he always had been in life, almost eight years later.

John, ever her staunchest supporter and lover, as she was to him, recorded her last words as being, “Do not grieve, my friend, my dearest friend. I am ready to go. And John, it will not be long.”


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