Abigail Smith Adams was born on November 11, 1744 and died on October 28, 1818. Abigail was the wife of our second president, John Adams. She was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts to William Smith and Elizabeth Quincy. She received no formal education, but her mother taught her and her sisters to read and write and she enjoyed reading from her father’s extensive English and French library of books. She married John Adams at age 20 and gave birth to five children over the course of ten years: Nabby, John Quincy (future president), Susanna, Charles and Thomas.
She is best remembered for the letters that she wrote to John while he was away at the Continental Congress. Most famous was her letter entitled, “Remember the Ladies,” in which she urges John, “...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.”
Abigail and her family moved to Paris in 1784 where she fulfilled her role as First Wife to the United States Minister to the King of Great Britain. The Adams family returned to Massachusetts in 1788. Abigail was very good friends with Martha Washington and her experiences abroad helped her secure her place as a valued social entertainer for the political world.
While John was away from home, Abigail managed to take care of the house, collect taxes, and perform other duties that were completely out of her authority as a woman such as hiring and firing of staff of her household and engaging her children (including daughter Abigail/Nabby) to pursue their own paths and march to their own beat. Abigail took charge of whatever task lay in front of her. She spoke to John in ways most women wouldn’t dare address their husbands at that time and she questioned him. She urged John to think and John valued her opinion and often asked her thoughts. This was a most unconventional marriage and most unconventional woman. You have to think that some of this had to rub off on her children and those they surrounded. She advocated educational opportunities for girls to be the same as those for boys.
Abigail was appointed to the Massachusetts Colony General Court in 1775 along with two other women to question those women in their colony who were against the independent movement and remained loyal to the British crown. Abigail was the first First Lady to hold any sort of official political office.
I first heard of Abigail Adams in a history class that I took a few years ago. I was assigned to read a book about her—a book I still hold dear because it changed my thinking in general. I think the most important thing that studying her life has taught me is that you should always strive for what you believe in and not what is necessarily popular opinion. You should always stick to your convictions and spend your life with someone who respects what you have to say—much as she did with her husband. This is something tremendous because it was so unlikely to have a partner who so understood you and respected your opinion as a woman during this time period.
*****For further study, I highly recommend this book first: Abigail Adams, An American Woman by Charles Akers
Abigail Adams, A Biography by Phyllis Lee Levin
Also: The Letters of John and Abigail Adams by Frank Shuffelton