Written for January 20, 2006
Abigail Adams, born Abigail Smith on November 11, 1744, was raised by father William Smith and mother Elizabeth Quincy in Weymouth, Massachusetts. William was a Congregational minister with a college degree from Harvard. Abigail grew up with the values of discipline and a strong faith instilled within her. She seemed to by a shy, modest girl, but Abigail was actually stubborn, determined, and clever, with a voracious curiosity (Withey 4). Because of these natural characteristics, Abigail Adams was able to become known as a prominent woman of the American Revolution and women’s rights advocate.
Abigail Adams married John Adams, a young lawyer who quickly became deeply involved with politics and eventually became the second president of the United States. She was a frequent letter-writer, and this was how she communicated with her husband during his long absences. Along with writing to her husband, she wrote to her extended family and friends, and also wrote to well-known people like Thomas Jefferson. Through these letters, she shared her views on events and ideas, which revealed a republican ideology (Neims Parks 1). Abigail’s constant letter-writing to important people like her husband John and political figure Thomas Jefferson was the reason her opinions were so significant and influential.
One change Abigail continually promoted was an increase in education for women. Abigail Adams never attended school, and for this reason, she felt insecure and limited by her lack of formal education (Withey 9). In those times, educational choices for girls were quite limited, and the few schools available were generally poor in quality. Consequently, Abigail chose to personally provide her daughters with a diverse education, including an understanding of Latin and Greek, topics Abigail missed as a girl (Withey 81). Throughout her life, Abigail passionately wished for improved education for women. She reasoned that educated mothers make good sons, and she once wrote to her husband, "If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen, and Philosophers, we should have learned women." (Furbee 28) For the majority of her lifetime, it was Abigail’s prime interest to have improved education for women.
In addition to encouraging increased education for women, Abigail fought for women’s legal and social rights. During the time period in which Abigail lived, women were seen as inferior to men and could not publicly voice their opinions. For this reason, Abigail’s letter-writing became extremely vital. It was through her letters that she spread her ideas to politicians, stating that women should have more legal rights, such as the right to own property, sign contracts, conduct business, and compose wills. She also felt that women’s “legal subordination” to their husbands should be abolished (Furbee 27). She believed that women’s status should be improved in order to enhance their work as wives and mothers, and such a development would not be conflicting with their domestic role (Withey 82). In her most famous letter to John Adams, she asked that he “Remember the Laidies,” telling him not to “put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands.” In this letter, she even warned that the women would form a rebellion if they did not receive more rights. Abigail Adams was an adamant fighter for the feminist cause (Withey 81).
Although Abigail Adams unyieldingly believed that women should have more rights, she was not politically inclined to favor social revolution. Abigail was a revolutionary because she solidly supported the idea of independence (Withey 82). Her husband John was known to side with the Sons of Liberty, a group of colonists who encouraged independence, and of course she supported him. She lived in Boston at the time of the Boston Tea Party, and she strongly approved of those protestors who unloaded the barrels of tea into the harbor. When she learned that her close friend and family physician Dr. Warren had died during the Battle of Bunker Hill, her enthusiasm for the American cause only increased (Furbee 23-25).
Abigail Adams, who lived during a time great change, was an outstanding person from her era. She was able to able to overcome the constraints of being female and make her ideas and opinions known. Utilizing her letter-writing skills, she influenced many noteworthy politicians and leaders during the American Revolution. She was a firm supporter for the causes in which she believed, including independence for the American colonies. Abigail Adams, a witty and resolute woman from the late 1700s, will be forever remembered as one of the most steadfast and influential women in American history.
Furbee, Mary R. Women of the American Revolution. San Diego: Lucent, 1999.
Neims Parks, Nancy. "Adams, Abigail." American National Biography Online. The Gale Group. 23 Dec 2005.
Withey, Lynne. Dearest Friend A Life of Abigail Adams. New York: Touchstone, 2001.