As I was researching the Lenni Lenape and William Penn for work on my novel, The River Beautiful, a few months ago, I came across an article about Abigail Adams. It was strange at the time, I’m not really sure how I ended up reading about a woman who wouldn’t be born until a good 50 years later. Anyway, I found that once I started reading, I couldn’t stop! This seems to be a habit of mine, I’m sure you can understand. Learning about Abigail’s life inspired me so much, I just had to write about the many trials she’d faced, but more importantly, her strength of character and resolve to move forward.
This article was first published by History’s Women. I hope you enjoy reading this far too short spark of history about an amazing woman!
Abigail Adams: A Legacy of Resilience
As the Second First Lady of the young United States of America, inner strength was a necessity for Abigail Adams. Married to John Adams, the second president of the United States, Abigail had many responsibilities. Planning state dinners, entertaining, and networking with fellow political wives were duties imperative to her position. However, serving as a devoted wife and mother to her 5 surviving children proved to be the most influential contribution she would make.
Far ahead of her time, Abigail not only served as First Lady, but was considered by many to be her husband’s most trusted advisor. From politics to spiritual matters, John sought Abigail’s advice diligently. So much so, that his political opponents even went as far to refer to Abigail as ‘Mrs. President’. In a time when women were expected to sit quietly on the sidelines and had not yet gained the right to vote, Abigail was fortunate to have a husband who took her seriously. It undoubtedly took a great deal of courage to be so outspoken regarding public policy.
Abigail adored her husband and he, her. A snippet from a letter she wrote to him in 1774 reads like a love poem of the likes we have only known through the works of Jane Austin and Charlotte Bronte’.
“I dare not express to you, at three hundred miles distance, how ardently I long for your return.”
Their marriage did not exist without difficulty. Aside from the turmoil of the time as well as the criticism they faced regarding John’s openness to Abigail’s ideas, the two lost a child when their daughter, Elizabeth, was stillborn. Though not an uncommon occurrence in the late 18th century, the loss must have carried its weight of devastation and grief. Still, they survived and grew closer throughout their years together.
Growing up, Abigail was often ill as a child, a weakness that extended well into adulthood. However, that didn’t stop her from learning to read, write, and cipher at the teaching of her mother. As a young woman, Abigail was a self-starter and spent a great deal of time reading with friends to further her own education. Abigail’s life experiences allowed her to have the insight to advocate for all women. She penned the following reminder to her husband.
“I desire you would 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.” (Talk about words of wisdom far ahead of her time!)
Abigail believed women should take an active role in decision-making within the home. An educated woman could then use her knowledge to effectively manage her household.
A devoted mother, Abigail is now also known as the first woman to have served as First Lady who was also the mother of a president. Her son, John Quincy Adams, grew up to be the sixth president of the United States. The moral values she held shone through in her parenting. In 1780, she wrote to her son.
“Let this important truth be engraven upon your heart…Justice, humanity, and benevolence are the duties you owe to society in general.”
It isn’t surprising that his policies supported education and the establishment of a national university since his mother hadn’t had access to a formal education herself. Though she died before her son assumed the role of president, there is no doubt that Abigail’s sound advice must have influenced his decisions.
More than two hundred years later, Abigail’s insight, devotion, and intelligence have left a lasting effect on women today. We can all learn from her example of determination, diligence, and advocacy for the equality of women in the United States. Throughout physical ailments, a lack of formal education, the loss of a child, and the disadvantage of being a woman in early America, Abigail’s resiliency left a legacy of a strength, love, integrity, and the drive to achieve regardless of circumstance. Abigail was blessed with a fulfilling life and passed away at the age of 73 from Typhoid fever.
That’s it for this small Spark of History!