Remembering the Legacy and Passion of Abigail Adams

SWAN Day is right around the corner, a day dedicated to supporting women artists and recognizing the too-often-unrecognized impact of women in society. In celebration of SWAN Day, we’re taking the opportunity to appreciate one of our country’s oldest supporters of women, Abigail Adams, who even in the 1700s was imploring men to “Remember the Ladies.”

Abigail Adams was an influential figure in American history, best known for her extensive correspondence with her husband, John Adams, the second President of the United States. Abigail is known for her letters, which number over 1,000, primarily with her husband but also with close female friends and her son, John Quincy Adams, who would go on to become the fourth president of the United States.

Abigail’s letters span from her courtship with John Adams, through the American Revolution, and into the establishment of the United States as a country. Through her letters, Abigail offered critical insights into the political climate, advised her husband on various matters, and advocated for the inclusion of women’s rights in the new republic. 

Click image to enlarge.

What is perhaps most remarkable about Abigail’s letters is that they are not only political but also portraits of her personal life. She was clearly a dedicated and loving mother, daughter, and friend, as well as a brilliant political mind. She is both able to offer profound and acute insights on the war, the economy, and of course on women’s rights, while at the same time continually expressing deep care for her loved ones and exploring her personal vulnerabilities and worries regarding, for example, grief and motherhood. 

Reading Abigail’s letters, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Barbie, spoken by Lawyer Barbie: “I have no difficulty holding logic and feeling at the same time. And it does not diminish my powers, it expands them.” I believe that this sentiment is just right for Abigail: her political brilliance is not in contrast with her emotional intelligence and sensitivity, but instead bolstered and rendered more powerful by it. In her letters, her political insights are spoken in the context of empathy and worry. In one letter to John, she makes a statement I find particularly poignant and true to her character: “There are [particular] times when I feel such an uneasiness, such a restlessness […] my Pen is my only pleasure, and writing to you the composure of my mind.” She goes on, “I feel that agitation this Evening, a degree of Melancholy has [seized] my mind, owing to the anxiety I feel for the fate of our Arms at New York.”

It is her care for the people of her country that informs her advice, advice that proved deeply necessary in the male-dominated conversation surrounding how to conduct the new country of America. 

It is also Abigail’s sense of her own power as a woman and belief in the women around her that led her to what is arguably her most important letter. In 1776, she wrote to John, “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.” Even in the 1700s, Abigail knew what Lawyer Barbie knows (and what all of us as women know.) Our voices are paramount not just because we comprise about half of the population, but also because “Men would be tyrants if they could,” because it is our connection to our emotions and our care for those around us that carries society forward.

Though Abigail was not able to hold a leadership role herself (aside from the First Lady, who is always a politically important figure), it is clear that her thoughts, opinions, and feelings had major influences on both her husband and her son, both of whom served as their country’s leaders. Abigail’s letters should be required reading when learning about early US politics.To recognize Abigail’s impact on early United States history is to recognize the fact that women have always been invaluable in the conversation, even if they haven’t been recognized as such. It is also to acknowledge the importance of including specifically women’s perspectives in the cultural landscape. Celebrate SWAN Day by reading Abigail’s letters and learning about one of the most important figures in our history today.  

© Julia Lasker (3/29/24) — Special for FF2 Media

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

Read Abigail Adams’ letters here.

Learn more about Abigail Adams here.

CREDITS & PERMISSIONS

Featured Photo/Bottom photo: Abigail Smith Adams (Mrs. John Adams), 1800/1815. Painting by Gilbert Stuart. Gift of Mrs. Robert Homans, National Gallery of Art.

Middle Photo: Equal Franchise Society Legislative Series; extract from a letter from Abigail Adams to her husband John Adams. Equal Franchise Society, New York City, New York, n. d. Online Text. Retrieved from the Library of Congress. Note that this letter is dated March 31, 1776.

Tags: Abigail Adams, Abigail Adams Letters, Barbie, Early Feminism, First Lady, First Lady of the United States, FLOTUS, Julia Lasker, Remember the Ladies, Revolution, Women's RIghts

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As an associate for FF2 Media, Julia writes reviews and features for films made by women. She is currently a senior at Barnard College studying Psychology. Outside of FF2, her interests include acting, creative writing, thrift shopping, crafting, and making and eating baked goods. Julia has been at FF2 for almost 4 years, and loves the company and its mission dearly.
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