abigail-adams--1401--t-600x600-cc.jpgEarly Life
Abigail Adams was born Abigail Smith on November 22, 1744 in Weymouth, MA. She was the daughter of a Congregational minister and born into a Puritan society.Contrary to the social norm of the time, her father allowed her and her two sisters to read and express their thoughts freely; though they received very little formal schooling. Resultantly, Abigail was one of the most well-informed women of her day.

abigail-adams-med.jpgFamily Life

After four years of courtship, Abigail married the Revolutionary war leader, and later, American president, John Adams on October 25, 1764. Although her friends tended to see John Adams as "stiff and formidable," she was able to see past that to view a kind, tender, caring man. Together, they had four children:
  • Abigail Junior: wife of Colonel William Stephen Smith
  • John Quincy: the sixth president
  • Susana: died as an infant
    • still-born during the first year of the war due to the stress of fearing the danger of British brutality.
  • Charles: died while his father was still president
  • Thomas: grew up to be a lawyer and a judge

She managed the family farm in Braintree (now Quincy), MA while her husband served in the Continental Congress and as a diplomat in Europe in the 1770's and 80's. In 1776, she moved her family to Boston to undergo the smallpox inoculation. For the duration of 1784, the Adams lived in Paris, and 1785-1787 they resided in London. Abigail and John were the first couple to live in the White House. Although John falsely told her that it was completely unnecessary to include women in the new set of laws because women basically control their husbands, he did give Abigail a lot of leeway and leaned on her for important decision-making, as well as allowing her to be the boss of everything to do with the family. This was especially notable while John was attending to the Continental Congresses. She was extremely supportive regarding most issues, and provided him comfort, although all of the time spent apart from her husband did have its effects on her. She told her friend Mercy Warren, " I find I am obliged to summon all my patriotism to feel willing to part with him again. You will readily believe me when I say that I make no small sacrifice to the public." She didn't support John running for the MA legislature before the war for fear for his life, as well as those of his family. This was not an entirely unfounded fear; she fell into a mild depression when her mother died during the war.
She was more than discontented when John left with their son, John Quincy, for Paris. He had been sent to join Benjamin Franklin as commissioner to France in 1778. Half of their marriage had already been time spent apart. The original plan had been for Abigail to go with him rather than John Quincy, but they changed their minds after realizing he might be captured at sea.
When John decided to run for president in 1796, Abigail energetically encouraged him, hoping that this man she knew was exceedingly intelligent and ambitious would be chosen to lead this country. Ironically, she was hesitant, sheepish even, about the idea of being the First Lady. As she put it, "I have been so used to a freedom of sentiment that I know not how to...look at every word before I utter it, and to impose a silence upon myself, when I long to talk."

Abigail and John are well known for their correspondence through letters. During the Revolutionary War (1775-1783,) her letters to her husband contained valueable information about British troops and ships in the Boston area. While John was away during the war, Abigail had complained about the lack of romance in his letters to her. He then wrote one to her in July 1775, but the British intercepted it and the letter was published in the Massachusetts Gazette. She was particularly known for her letters containing her opinions on society that provide us with lively details of colonial life.

From a Letter to John:

"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,s and be more generous and favorable to them than you r ancestors. 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 foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation."


Women's Rights

Much like her husband, Abigail was a dedicated patriot. She was one of the first and the few to realize how Revolutionary ideas could be implemented to change the status of women, in an era where most women were still doing traditional women's work. She decided to form a "Committee of Ladies" with Mercy Warren and Hannah Winthrop, although it is unclear whether the committee actually ever met. In 1776, she is quoted as teasing her husband that "the ladies" were determined "to forment a rebellion of their own" if they were not given political rights, and in one of her letters sent to John while he was in Philadelphia, she urged him to "remember the ladies" in the new nation's laws. "Remember the ladies" is one of the most well-known phrase ever written by an American woman, though there is speculation over whether it was in jest or not. She provided her daughter Abigail with a broad education and wanted the men to work on education. She believed that educated women were the key to a successful America, for the ideas of educated men are always influenced by women in their lives.


Abigail Adams was greatly opposed to slavery. She had been raised in a family that believed in the ideal of equality for all, whether it was man to woman or white to black. Although she never left New England to get a first-hand glimpse of the revolution in the South, she was convinced that the Southern Colonies were likely less enthusiastic about the revolution because it was a cause for liberty, something they specifically withheld from their slaves. She couldn't help but sympathize with the enemy when she learned that the British were trading freedom of slaves for soldiers.

America's Independence

A woman of great intelligence, empathy, and support, Abigail Adams proved to be impatient as well in various letters to her husband asking when independence shall be declared. She had personally witnessed the Battle of Bunker hill, watching with her son, John Quincy, on Penn's Hill. It was around that time that she believed independence was inevitable, and she supported it, as well as acted (mostly through attempts at persuading John to push harder for it) on it. She was absolutely "disgusted with the Olive Branch Petition" because to her, liberty for all seemed to trump pleasing those who simply didn't want a brawl. It didn't take her too long to look ahead past a war.She first brought up the question of what sort of gov't would take over after the war with John in November of 1775.
"If we separate from Britain, what code of laws will be established. How shall we be governed so as to retain our liberties?...When I consider these things and the prejudices of people in favor of ancient customs and regulations, I feel axious for the fate of our monarch or democracy or whatever is to take place....I suppose in Congress you think of everything relative to trade and commerce, as well as other things."
She continued with her ideas about taxes and criticized Congress not being entirely committed to separation from Britain, as was shown with the Olive Branch Petition.

Toward the End

Becoming the First Lady

Abigail was constantly supportive of her husband during his two terms as vice president, and was the best shoulder for him to lean on when he became president in 1797. In her worries about being the First Lady, she idolized Martha Washington in her grace. Abigail wrote to her sister Mary,
"She received me with great ease and politeness. She is plain in her dress, but that plainness is the best of every article....Her hair is white, her teeth beautiful, her person rather short that otherways, hardly so large as my ladyship, and if I was to speak sincerely, I think she is a much better figure. her manners are modest and unassuming, dignified and feminine, not the tincture of hauteur about her."
Throughout his presidency, Abigail continued to stay politically aware and managed to become one of America's better First Ladies.

Her Death

Abigail's unfortunate death on October 28, 1818 was a result of typhoid fever. She is buried at the First Unitarian Church in Quincy, Ma. She was an extraordinary woman with great ambitions and a beautiful pen. As Cokie Roberts puts it, "She always took up the cause of the weak against the strong, whether it was the colonies against England, slaves against masters, or women against men.


Bailing, Thomas Andrew, David M. Kennedy, & Lizabeth Cohen.
The American Pageant. Boston: Haoughton Mifflin, 1998. Print.

Gelles, Edith Belle. Portia the World of Abigail Adams. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1992. Print.

Langguth, A. J. "Massacre 1770." Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. 147+. Print.

Roberts, Cokie. Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation. 1st ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2004. Print.