The Awesome Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams is one of the most remarkable and influential Founding Mother.  She was the wife of one president and the mother of another. She is recognized as one of the most extraordinary women in American history.

Childhood and learning to read and write

Abigail Smith was born in 1744 in Weymouth, Massachusetts. 

 Because she was a girl, Abigail did not receive any formal education. Being independent and strong willed, she taught herself to read and write using her father’s library. A remarkable feat!  She became a lifelong advocate for women’s education.

Marriage to, and correspondence with, John Adams

Abigail married prominent Boston lawyer John Adams in 1764, and they had five children, including John Quincy Adams, the sixth President.

While John Adams was away from home for extended periods of time serving his country, he and Abigail exchanged over 1000 letters. These letters discussed political philosophy, theology, current events, and law. John frequently sought the advice of Abigail, and their letters are filled with intellectual discussions on government and politics.

John addressed his letters to her, “Miss Adorable.”  Abigail addressed her letters to him, “My Dearest Friend.” 

Although self-educated, Abigail was actually a better writer than her well educated husband. She was also stronger and steadier emotionally.  

Important and influential political adviser

Abigail was John’s most important and influential political adviser.  Abigail did not always agree with John, and she expressed her opinions freely and forcibly. She often convinced John to change his mind. She was his political soulmate and intellectual equal.

Abigail had very strong opinions, and she was not afraid to express them. She abhorred slavery.  She lobbied for educational opportunities for women. In sum, she believed in, and advocated, equal rights for all people, including blacks and women. She always supported her husband, but she was sure to give him the woman’s point of view on issues.

Here are just three of her famous quotes:

  • “Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for and attended to with diligence.”
  • “Great necessities call for great virtues.”
  • “We have too many high-sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.”

Battle of Bunker Hill and the beginning of the Revolutionary War

In 1775, Abigail and her 7-year-old son, John Quincy, witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill. The battle claimed over 100 American lives. Dr. Joseph Warren, a famous Son of Liberty, and the Adams’s family doctor, was killed.

Abigail wrote to her husband: “Our dear friend fell gloriously for his country— [it is] better to die honorably in the field than ignominiously in the gallows.”

Upset, Abigail gathered up her precious pewter utensils and melted them down into musket balls. She then distributed the bullets to the rebel forces. At great risk, she often sheltered colonial troops and Boston refugees at her Massachusetts home. 

“Remember the ladies”

In the spring of 1776, while John was in Philadelphia debating the issue of independence, Abigail wrote her most famous letter.  

“My Dearest Friend,  I long to hear that you have declared independence. And, by the way . . . I desire you would remember the ladies. . . 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.” In other words, if you guys don’t remember and empower us women, we will start a second American revolution against you.

Her husband responded jokingly. He was afraid of a “Despotism of the Petticoat.” She pushed back. She insisted that she was absolutely serious. She was concerned about the status of women in a future democratic republic. Would women be treated better by the Americans than the British, the same, or worse?

“The Lady Adams Rangers”

Abigail was so respected for her efforts during the war that a Massachusetts regiment called themselves, “the Lady Adams Rangers.”

Throughout her life, Abigail forcefully lobbied for women’s education. In as letter to her husband, she wrote, “you need not be told how much female education is neglected, nor how fashionable it has been to ridicule female learning.”

After the Revolution, Abigail joined her husband in France and England when he served as ambassador.

When John was in the nation’s capital as George Washington’s vice-president, Abigail remained in Massachusetts where she ran the farm and business.

First Lady: “Mrs. President”

Abigail was so politically active, intelligent, and well respected that when John served as president, she was honored with the title, “Mrs. President.”

At one point, when French officials refused to meet with American diplomats unless they offered bribes, Abigail insisted that John declare war on France. This was the infamous XYZ affair. Fortunately, President Adams negotiated a peaceful resolution.

Family Tragedies and Death

After President Adams was forced out of office in 1800 by Thomas Jefferson’s back stabbing dirty campaign, John and Abigail retired to Quincy, Massachusetts. Adding to the election heartache, Abigail’s son Charles died from alcoholism. In 1814, Abigail nursed her eldest daughter in the Adams’s home while she wasted away from breast cancer.

Throughout her life, Abigail continued to fight for the rights of women, especially the right of girls to a formal education. One historian concluded: “Abigail was the most literate and politically powerful woman of her time.”

Abigail died in 1818 at 78. John died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. 

Role Model and advocate for women’s rights and education

Abigail Adams is truly a great person. She is a wonderful role model for everyone, especially girls and women. She set an example of women’s education, of keeping informed about and involved in current events, and for having strong values and principles and expressing them boldly and eloquently.  If Abigail had the same opportunities then that women have now, she could have been in the White House as president. She would have had my vote.   

(Sources: Personal research for talks on the Founding Mothers;   John Adams, David McCullough; “John Adams” PBS Miniseries; Coke Roberts, Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation;  “Abigail Adams,” http://www.history.com; “Abigail Adams,” Wikipedia; “Ladies of Liberty,” American Ride, BYUtv.)

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