Abigail Adams helped plant the seeds that would start women and men thinking about women's rights and roles in a country that had been founded on the ideals of equality and independence.
Abigail Adams was born Abigail Smith on November 22, 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts, a farm community about fifteen miles southeast of Boston. Her family on both sides had lived in the colonies for several generations and was well established in the more influential circles of society. Her father, William Smith, the son of a well-to-do Boston merchant, was a Harvard graduate who served as a minister in Weymouth. Her mother, Elizabeth Quincy Smith, descended from a long line of prosperous, educated, and well-reputed New Englanders.
Abigail, with her two sisters, Mary and Betsy, and one brother, Billy, enjoyed a happy childhood growing up in the Weymouth parsonage. The family was financially comfortable and had servants, a house full of fine furniture, and a lush, productive farm. Their large, sprawling house sat on a hill overlooking farmland that spread across the surrounding area. The Smith home was busy and active — visitors came often and relatives lived nearby.
Shy but stubborn
As a child Abigail was shy and quiet, but also determined and stubborn. Throughout her youth she suffered from one minor sickness after another. She later recalled being "always sick" (Akers, p. 5). Her parents, especially her mother, worried about their daughter's weak constitution, fearing that some disease or infection would cut her life short, as so often happened to children of this time.
Abigail often complained to her sisters about their mother's constant worrying and overprotectiveness. She sometimes felt smothered by Elizabeth's hovering presence. With her somewhat austere nature and strict approach to child rearing, Elizabeth insisted on obedient and excellent conduct from her children. However, life at the Smith home was not overly harsh or severe, for the father balanced out the parenting with his more easygoing and relaxed approach.
Overall, Abigail's early years were happy ones. At the Weymouth parsonage, amidst the security and guidance of a loving family, she developed the strict sense of values and strong moral fiber that would serve as a foundation for her later life.
Like most girls of her time, Abigail receive...
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... of hers. She had been fifty-four years the delight of my father's heart, the sweetener of all his toils, the comforter of all his sorrows, the sharer and heightener of all his joys. It was but the last time when I saw my father that he told me ... [that] through all the good report and evil report of the world, in all his struggles and in all his sorrows, the affectionate participation and cheering encouragement of his wife had been his never-failing support, without which he was sure he should never have lived through them" (Mitchell, p. xxxiii).
Akers, Charles W., Abigail Adams: An American Woman, Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1980.
Butterfield, L. H., Marc Friedlaender, and Mary-Jo Kline, eds., The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975.
Gelles, Edith B., Portia: The World of Abigail Adams, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.
Levin, Phyllis Lee, Abigail Adams: A Biography, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.
Mitchell, Stewart, ed., New Letters of Abigail Adams, 1788-1801, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1947.
Source: U·X·L® Biographies, U·X·L, 1996.
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