by John T. Marck
First Lady: 1797 to 1801
Wife of John Adams, 2nd President of the United States
Born: November 11, 1744 Died: October 28, 1818
Abigail Smith was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the daughter of a Congregationalist minister, the Reverend William Smith and his wife Elizabeth. Abigail was kept out of school much of the time, and thus had no formal education, but was encouraged to read. She spent many hours reading in the library of her father, as well as was helped by her brother-in-law, Richard Cranch. She learned Shakespeare, Milton and Pope; taught herself French, and many of her suitors were intimidated by her learning, except John Adams, who was captivated by it, especially her love letters to him. It was this reading, combined with the many long sermons of her minister father, that prepared her for the intellectual tastes of this young lawyer, Adams, who courted Abigail for almost two years, and on October 25, 1764, the two were married.
Abigail then became the mistress of the Adams' farm in Braintree, Massachusetts, which is now Quincy, Massachusetts. John Adams had a very successful law practice, which kept him and his family in Boston much of the time over the next ten years. When John Adams served in the Continental Congress, as well as his other political activities, Abigail would spend many months alone on the farm in Braintree. It would be Abigail alone who managed the farm and educated their five children born between 1765 and 1772. There were: Abigail Amelia (1765-1813); John Quincy (1767-1848) who became the sixth President of the United States; Susanna (1768-1770); Charles (1770-1800); and Thomas Boylston (1772-1832).
In her management of the farm and other business affairs, Abigail was so effective that she completely took over these duties, which gave her husband time for his public service. Proficient at writing, she documented her life, to an exceptional degree over the years in more than two thousand letters, and is considered one of the best letter writers in America. It would be through her insightful and communicative nature that she described in vivid detail, clarity and humor, the new nation, the American family, the revolution and war, and the new capital. In many respects, she could be described as a very strong willed driven woman, and one of the first feminists.
Having written letters almost on a daily basis, she mentioned events, ideas, her impressions, and personalities. In one of her many letters to her husband when he was in Congress, she wrote, "Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors...If particular care 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." Abigail, who was very well-informed, served as an advisor and alter ego to her husband throughout his career.
Abigail liked public life, and between 1784 and 1785 she was able to join her husband in France, and became the mistress of the Paris mansion. Within a year, her husband was appointed Minister to the Court of St. James, thereby moving them to London from 1785-1788. In England she tolerated royal contempt, but at the same time noted the dictatorship of the nobility, from which John Adams had helped free many Americans. After spending three years in London, John Adams decided that they would not return to their farmhouse in Braintree, but rather believed they should have a lifestyle that befitted their station in life.
Upon returning to the United States in 1788, they moved into the finest mansion they could find in Quincy. During the years before her husband would become president, Abigail spent her time managing their new home, devoting much of her time to her children and husband, including the years her husband was the vice-president, as well as her continued writing and involvement in women's issues.
When John Adams became President of the United States, he was inaugurated in Philadelphia, the then capital on March 4, 1797. Soon thereafter, when the capital was moved to Washington, D.C., Abigail became the mistress of the President's House. Here she undertook the enormous job of opening the new presidential mansion, which was not yet completed, that was later to be known as The White House. She was quite inventive, having to use many makeshift ideas to get by, as well as use the audience rooms for clothes drying. Abigail entertained on quite a number of occasions, and did so in a formal fashion. To accomplish this, she shut off many of the unfinished rooms and made use of the ones she was able to heat. In her entertaining, she shared the belief, and that of her husband, that the presidency should maintain the same dignity as the courts of Europe.
The same concern, advice and interest that she shared with her husband, she also maintained with her son, John Quincy, who received many letters from his mother as well. She never lost interest in his career, and he appreciated her advice during his diplomatic positions in Europe. Prior to her husband's term ending, she returned to Quincy to look after the home and her family, and suddenly, on October 28, 1818, she suffered a stroke and died. Unfortunately, this occurred when John Quincy was secretary of state, thus she never lived to see her son as president, six years later. So far in America's presidential history, Abigail Adams was the only woman to have been the wife of one President, and the mother of another.
Abigail Adams was a great woman of strong convictions, wonderful intellect, masterful writing and outstanding wisdom. Not only was she instrumental in her husband and son's political careers, but was a forerunner in women's rights and advancements, making her one of America's most distinguished ladies.
Copyright © 1990-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. From The First Ladies of the United States by John T. Marck.