Thursday, November 22, 2012

Abigail Adams

“Her life gave the lie to every libel on her sex
that was ever written.” —John Quincy Adams 

Born this day in 1744: Abigail Smith Adams (1744–1818)

Abigail Adams’s famous letter, in which she exhorts her husband, John Adams, to “remember the Ladies,” inspired the subtitle for this humble blog. America seems to have forgotten so many of them. Femilogue hopes to provide a gentle reminder. The women in these posts are not obscure; most were well-known in their day. It is a small irony that Abigail Adams is one of the few women whom we all know. Indeed, she appears in the pages of our children’s history books. Yet, she has often been depicted as a lovelorn helpmeet who joked about women’s rights. But remember that John Adams married up when he married Abigail Smith. He was drawn to her intellect. (Formal education was denied to her on account of her sex, so Abigail Adams taught herself, reading every book available to her. She was arguably the most well-read woman in America.) The two shared a passion for each other and for American politics. Their marriage was both a romance and a political partnership, and he considered her his closest and wisest advisor. Abigail was the more progressive of the two. She opposed slavery and taught the family’s two slaves to read and write, then freed them. She was also one of our nation’s earliest feminists. She believed strongly in rights for women, especially regarding education and marriage (and including birth control).

As a woman she was afforded little opportunity for self-expression, so she wrote letters. Lots of letters. She wrote to relatives, to friends, and to the movers and shakers in European and American political circles in which she traveled. Her grandson Charles Francis Adams began publishing her letters in 1840. In her letters she discusses family affairs, local news, and long commentaries on her favorite topic, politics.  Smart and witty, her letters give us a deeper understanding of both private and public life in Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary America. 

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