'New' Letters from an Indefatigable Writer ABIGAIL ADAMS

By Susan L. Sweetnam, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 22, 1996 | Go to article overview

'New' Letters from an Indefatigable Writer ABIGAIL ADAMS


Susan L. Sweetnam, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Abigail Adams exemplified what it meant to be a woman, an American, and a revolutionary in the transitional period between Colonial status and independence.

Abigail, first lady to the second president of the United States and mother of the sixth president, endured long separations from her husband, John Adams, throughout their marriage. As a result, Abigail became a prodigious correspondent to keep her husband apprised of her views on a wide variety of the day's issues.

Her letters are a remarkable source of information about the political climate of an emerging country and about her own concerns. Through her writings, the origins of her famous plea to her husband (when he was a delegate at the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia) to "Remember the Ladies" can be traced to her troubled conscience over how colonists could fight so passionately for liberty while at the same time depriving others of independence.

Much is known about the Adamses' lives through existing family letters and other documents that today number more than 20,000 and are stored at more than 200 American libraries and institutions.

But descendants of the Adamses - including two great-great-great-great granddaughters of Abigail Adams, Sarah Johnson and Gwyneth Johnson Lymberis - have now made public more documents, donating a collection of family papers to Cornell University Library in Ithaca, N.Y., last week.

The letters were stored for years in tin boxes in the Johnsons' California home. Among the papers are 17 letters from Abigail Adams, three from John Adams, and two from John Quincy Adams.

Cornell students are teaming up to transcribe and annotate photocopies of the Adamses' letters, viewing the originals when necessary. The transcriptions of the letters will eventually be placed on the World Wide Web global computer network.

Connection to today's women

For Joan Jacobs Brumberg, a social historian at Cornell who is using the letters in one of her classes, the letters of most consequence are a series written from 1806 to 1816 between Abigail Adams, her widowed daughter-in-law, and her granddaughters Susan and Abbe.

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'New' Letters from an Indefatigable Writer ABIGAIL ADAMS
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