It’s President’s Day, and as all but one have been married and surely have a love story, oh, why not?
As third cousins*, Abigail and John Adams surely had known one another since childhood. At the age of 27, John went with a friend, Richard Cranch, who was engaged to Abigail’s sister to the Smith home.
No one knows what transpired that day, but John was attracted to Abigail. Shy, tiny, and all of 17, she was by even today’s standards, nice looking.
But it wasn’t just her looks that attracted the future POTUS to Abigail. She was smart, well read and knew about poetry, philosophy, and much to John’s delight, politics!
Within two years, and after a struggle or two, the couple married. Seems Abigail’s mum was not too keen on her daughter marrying a “country lawyer” who “reeked of the farm.”
But, at last she did give in and the lovebirds were married at the “home of the bride.”
After a simple wedding and reception, they both rode to their home, a cottage on a farm John had inherited from his father, on a horse.
They produced a child in the ninth months of the marriage.
Over 12 years, they would welcome 6 children into the world.
We are very fortunate when it comes to Abigail Adams. She was a prolific letter writer, and many have been saved. Her correspondence with John as he traveled is voluminous, and detailed.
While John was away, Abigail pounded virtue, duty, and obligation in the kids, and ran the farm, ending the day with a missive, or at least part of one.
From the letters we see a couple who had a partnership of unique equality for the day in which they lived, and a man who genuinely valued his wife’s opinion and need her approval.
So much so, he often apologized for his “vanity” in asking for it.
They moved from Braintree to Boston so John could expand his law practice in 1768, rented a house, moving from time to time as the family grew and their needs expanded.
He moved the family back to Braintree so he could concentrate on his law work, but quickly decided that wasn’t the best option. The family moved back to Boston and stayed there.
Until he went to the nation’s capitol of course.
Politics ran in her family and Abigail could claim kin to Smiths, Quincys, Hancocks, and was a great-grand daughter of John Norton the founding pastor of Old Ship Church in Hingham.
In what would become a new nation, old family mattered.
She was a preacher’s daughter.
She had no formal schooling.
She was a sickly child.
Her mother taught her and her sisters to read, write, and cipher. They also read English and French literature and their grandmother read to them “whenever possible.”
That seed of education in a time when women barely mattered, would find its way into the founding of a nation. Adams felt women should have rights and her strong beliefs would influence the man she married who would help to found the country and eventually be its leader.
Even today with the educational opportunities afforded women and the numerous First Ladies who’ve followed her, she’s considered one of the most educated and erudite.
So how, you ask, and why is this a love story?
Well, it’s like this.
In a time when women didn’t and couldn’t own property, she advocated to her husband that they should.
And he listened.
In a time when girls didn’t go to school and were barely educated at home, she advocated for educational opportunities for women.
And he listened.
In a time when obedience was demanded, she advocated that women should not submit to laws which did not have their interest at heart.
And he listened.
In a time when a woman’s place was in the home, she advocated for opportunities which would recognize their intellect, their capabilities, and for their contributions.
And he listened.
In a letter written to her husband during the Continental Congress, Abigail said, “…remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your 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.”
She believed slavery was evil, and went so far as to defy her neighbors and enroll a free black youth in a night school when he knocked on her door and asked her to teach him to read.
Abigail preceded her husband in death, telling him, “…do not grieve, my friend, my dearest friend. I am ready to go. And John, it will not be long.”
She succumbed to typhoid fever on October 28, 1818 at the age of 73.
The advocate that was Abigail Adams may have passed from one realm to another on that October day, but her influence survived in the generations to follow.
The advocate that was John Adam’s love left us her son, her values, and her ideals.
She was truly a woman of influence; and he listened.
*My parents were third cousins, ergo, I am my own fourth cousin as were all of Abigail and John’s children. 🙂