November 11, 1744- October, 28, 1818
A woman's voice in the US governmentby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Abigail Adams was more than one of America’s first ladies; she helped build our nation’s government. She was a supporter of woman’s equality and education. During the founding of our nation she was left alone to raise her children while her husband served in the Continental Congress. Being left alone to raise children and make financial decisions gave Abigail the kind of confidence and determination which most women, during that time, did not possess. Often women never tried to make their opinions known, they accepted their husband’s opinion. Abigail’s willingness to make a change resonated throughout her letters to many important people, especially her husband.
Abigail Smith Adams was born on November 11, 1744 in Weymouth Massachusetts. William Smith and Elizabeth Quincy are her parents. Her father, William Smith, and his forefathers were congressional ministers, Elizabeth Quincy, her mother, descended from the kings of England. Abigail was only taught to read, write, and do basic math. Fortunately, William Smith helped instill a passion for reading and learning into his young children. Because of that passion Abigail, herself, carried on her education when most women of the time stopped learning in order to pursue a family. She studied philosophy, theology, Shakespeare, the classics, ancient history, government, and law. Poor health seemed to plague Abigail even though she was mentally strong. Because of her sickness her mother was plagued with fear of her child’s untimely death. Despite being ill for most of the time Abigail’s willingness to persevere gave her the confidence to achieve her goals.
On October 25, 1764 Abigail married a lawyer named John Adams. At that time she was almost 20 years old. Abigail soon gave birth nine months later to her first daughter Abigail or “Nabby”. She would later give birth to John Quincy Adams, Susanna, Charles, and Thomas. Altogether she gave birth to three sons and two daughters over a period of ten years. Farming and managing the finances were some of the big tasks that she and her husband faced while he practiced law in Boston. Despite the hardships they loved each other very much and the shared a love for literature. Later in 1774 John was called to the First Continental Congress while Abigail stayed home. While John was gone, more burden was placed on Abigail to run the household. Even though a considerable distance lay between them they still corresponded via letters. Often times John would ask Abigail for her advice concerning political matters. Abigail tried to express her views on woman’s equality to John but it backfired and no law was made concerning woman’s rights. She was probably one of the first women to stand up for woman’s rights. After Continental Congress was over she and Nabby joined her husband and John Quincy in Paris at his diplomatic post. While in Great Britain she was the wife of the first United States Minister to the Kingdom of Great Britain. The family returned in 1788 to their home commonly called the “Old House”; Abigail helped enlarge and remodel their house once they came home. Their home is now open to the public and is apart of the Adams National Historical Park.
Her husband became President on March 4, 1797. During these times President Adams needed her advice and sustenance most of all. For a while Abigail and the family resided in the temporary capital of Philadelphia, but then they moved to Washington D.C.; the remaining three months of John’s Presidency were served in D.C. The White House was only partially complete at the time. Abigail was constantly lighting the fireplace in order to stay warm during the cold months. She was famous for hanging wet laundry to dry in the East Room. At the time Abigail Adams was well known for hosting parties with Martha Washington in the uncompleted White House and at Philadelphia. John Adams was not re-elected for his second term in office because of the four Alien and Sedition Acts; these acts restricted aliens who wanted to become citizens. These acts made the public furious with our second President, so he wasn’t re-elected.
After John Adams’ Presidency ended, life slowed down. For the last 17 years of her life Abigail could finally live in peace with her husband and family. Her daughter Nabby died of breast cancer soon after John’s Presidential term ended. Even though Abigail was constantly ill she continually followed her son’s political career. She died on October 28, 1818 of typhoid fever. Her last words were, “Do not grieve, my friend, my dearest friend, I am ready to go. And John it will not be long.” Six years after her death her son, John Quincy Adams, became President. She was placed in a crypt where her husband was later laid along with her son, the sixth President, and his wife. An Adams memorial was displayed in Washington D.C. Her letters were published in 1848 by her grandson; it became the first published book about a first lady. During the Continental Congresses Abigail’s advice for John helped shape our government. Her strength sets a standard for Americans today. She wanted to make a change; Abigail helped change things when she took action.
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