The Voice of Abigail Adams: The Second First Lady Influenced the Politics of a New Nation without Ever Holding Office

By Anderson, Amy | Success, March 2010 | Go to article overview

The Voice of Abigail Adams: The Second First Lady Influenced the Politics of a New Nation without Ever Holding Office


Anderson, Amy, Success


A bigail Adams was a voice for women's rights, abolition and independence at a time when most women's voices were silent. As wife to the second U.S. president and mother to the sixth, she had a profound effect on the burgeoning nation.

Born Abigail Quincy Smith in Weymouth, Mass., on Nov. 11, 1744, Abigail was one of four children. Her father was a Congregational minister. Despite the fact that women were not given formal education, Abigail spent a great deal of time in her father's library and studying at the knee of her esteemed maternal grandfather. Col. John Quincy. She was in poor health for much of her childhood, so most of her time was spent reading and writing letters. She taught herself French and studied theology, history, government, law, philosophy and the classics. However, she felt deprived of a formal education, and later in her life, she became a vocal advocate for the equal education of girls.

Abigail began a friendship with future president John Adams when she was still a teen. At 26, he was in Boston pursuing a law career and became a frequent visitor to the Smith home, where he found young Abigail to be his intellectual equal, a woman who loved to discuss politics and literature. Their long-distance courtship inspired the first of what, became a collection of more than 1,100 letters over the next five decades. They were married in 1764; Abigail called her new husband her "dearest and best friend."

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The newlyweds lived in Braintree on John's small farm, and over the next few years rented homes in Boston as well. Abigail gave birth to five children, including John Quincy Adams in 1767, who would become the sixth president of the United States. In 1774, her husband, whose reputation in the legal community had grown, left for Philadelphia to serve as a delegate to the first Continental Congress. Over the next 10 years, John's political career kept, him away from home, and most of Abigail's communication with her husband was through letters.

She took on the. duties of running their farm in Braintree and raising their five children. As a manager of the farming business--a unique position for a woman at that time--Abigail excelled. "1 hope in time to have the reputation of being as good a farmeress as my partner has of being a good statesman," she wrote in 1776. Years after she had left to join John in Europe, she continued to manage the farm and dairy operations long distance. Her business acumen resulted in annual profits for most of the couple's life together.

Abigail also tutored her children at home when they were younger, and as they started school, she often noted in her letters her dissatisfaction with the educational discrimination against girls. To make up for the inequality, she spent a great deal of time ensuring that her daughters received the education she was denied.

As John played an active role in the formation of the United States, Abigail engaged in lively debate with her husband over the issues she saw as imperative to the success of the new nation. One of these was the equality of women in American society. She wrote to John: "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 ferment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.'

Although neither John nor the other men writing the Declaration of Independence were swayed by her arguments, Abigail created some of the. earliest-known writings calling for women's equality, and she continued to speak out against restrictions on women. …

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