(Nov 11, 1744 – Oct 28, 1818) Founding mother, patriot, wife and political advisor to America’s 2nd President, John Adams. In her many letters to her husband and friends Abigail Adams expressed the concerns and accomplishments of an early American patriotic woman. Her most famous request was for Congress to “Remember the ladies” in the creation of the Constitution of the United States. It was her clear understanding that women’s influences in the domestic sphere were as integral to the development of a new nation as the the more public efforts of the founding fathers. Family economics, children’s education and civic responsibility, were the primary concerns of Abigail Adams. Her requests for legislation to benefit future generations included the necessity of education for all children regardless of sex or color, as well as the right to self-determination for all individuals including the emancipation of slaves and granting wives equal status under the law.
“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… If particular care and attention is not paid to us ladies we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by laws in which we have no representation.” -Abigail Adams, in a letter to her husband John Adams, March 31, 1776
Born to a prominent family in Weymouth, Massachusetts on November 11, 1744, Adams’ father, Reverend William Smith, was part of a prestigious ministerial community within the Congregational Church. Her mother Elizabeth was a descendent of the Quincy family. Like other women, Abigail had no formal education, but she availed herself of the family’s library to master subjects most women never considered. She also joined her mother in tending to the poor and sick.
In 1764, Abigail married John Adams, a Harvard graduate beginning a law career. The couple moved to Adams’ farm in Braintree, south of Boston, and had three sons and two daughters. As her husband increasingly traveled as a lawyer, political revolutionary, and—after the Revolution—a diplomat, Abigail managed their farm and business affairs while raising the children. Although married women at this time had limited property rights, Adams began to refer to their property as hers. She also made investment decisions that enhanced the family’s prosperity.
From their earliest married days, the couple began an extensive correspondence, which provides insight into the social and political climate of the Revolutionary and Early National periods in American history. In 1776, as her husband participated in the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Adams wrote her most famous letter that the Founding Fathers “remember the ladies.” She added, “Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could.”
Though not exactly the feminist some historians have depicted her to be, Adams was concerned with greater protection for women under the new laws, as well as access to formal education. She allied with Judith Sargent Murray’s efforts to expand women’s education because Adams, too, saw mothers as having a vital role in preparing sons to be virtuous citizens and leaders in the new republic. Though John Adams did not take his wife’s letter seriously, throughout his life, he sought her opinions on political and other matters. She traveled with him throughout Europe for five years (1783-1788) during his stint as a diplomat. When he was elected president in 1797, Adams eagerly wrote to his wife, “I never wanted your Advice and assistance more in my life…” An outspoken First Lady, Adams often defended her husband’s positions, including his advocacy of the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts (1798).
In 1800, the Adams became the first First Family to occupy the White House, after the capital moved from Philadelphia to Washington, DC. When Adams lost his re-election bid in 1801, the couple retreated to Massachusetts, where Abigail maintained correspondence with political leaders including presidents Thomas Jefferson—who defeated her husband in a bitter election—and James Madison, as well as Dolley Madison, who remained influential after her husband’s death. Adams also worked for the political advancement of her son, John Quincy Adams, though she would not live to see his election as president in 1824. Her grandson, Charles Francis Adams published Adams’ letters in 1848.