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Don’t Just ‘Stand By Yur Man,’ but Join Him: Abigail Adams

Do any of you have a favorite year in elementary school? Mine was Grade 4.

I loved my teacher. I loved the projects. I remember them with startling clarity: the ‘Fort Langley’ replica we built in our classroom (the one where I got too bossy and the other girls told the teacher to tell me to back off), the popsicle-stick buildings we designed with paper mache hills and lakes, the poster projects about our favorite animal and sea creature (I picked Koala Bears and Jellyfish).

And my favorite: the book review about a famous person in history. The girls read about women; the boys read about men.

I read this book about Abigail Adams.

You know that song, ‘Raise Your Glass’? There’s this one line that I love: ‘if you’re too school for cool…’

Ah, yes, that’s me.

I think I also asked for homework in Grade 4. You know, because I thought it was cool.

Don’t worry, I’m cringing too. And, smacking my forehead. Oh, what was I thinking?

But I remember Abigail Adams. Even as a nine-year-old, I thought her courageous.

Mrs. Adams was one of the first, ‘first ladies,’ of the United States. She and her husband, John Adams – the second US president – had six children in ten years, including the sixth US president, John Quincy Adams. She is one of three women immortalized in Boston’s Women’s Memorial on Commonwealth Avenue; the other two include Lucy Stone, prominent American abolitionist and suffragist, and Phillis Wheatley, the first published African-American writer and poet.

Abigail was a strong believer in women’s rights and education. She advocated for married women’s property rights. She believed women should not submit to laws not made in their interest, nor should they be restricted to the role of their husband’s companion.

Progressive thinking for the late 1700’s.

Also, an interesting perspective from a woman known as her husband’s best friend and confidante.

Abigail didn’t just let Mr. Adams govern the country alone. She inserted her opinion into everything he allowed her to, which appears from their letters, to including both domestic and significant political issues. Their published letters during the 1776 Continental Congress reveal a ‘marriage of true minds’ and passion. Abigail pleaded with John to “… 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 form a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.” (Laurie Carter Noble, ‘Abigail Adams’).

I would argue that any woman could also be a tyrant if allowed (and, apparently, that was John’s rebuttal), but I think Abigail had a valid point.

I find it interesting that so many strong women in history – Mrs. Adams included – were both suffragists and abolitionists.

Perhaps it’s that once you feel underrepresented and under-respected, you understand the plight of others who feel the same.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Adams thought slavery evil. Mrs. Adams fought for the education of free black youths, and believed emancipation was key to the success of American democracy. She thought that if Virginians believed in freedom as much as they said, they would liberate their slaves.

Again, this was almost a century before the Emancipation Proclamation.

I learn something valuable from Mrs. Adams. She fought for women’s rights more than a century before we were given the right to vote. Even when her husband rejected her ideas, he respected them, and she respected him. She didn’t shrink back from her beliefs, nor did she start that ‘Rebellion’ (unless you consider the growing tide of suffrage voices who came after her a ‘Rebellion’). She used her intellectual capabilities to better her family. She didn’t see her mission as different than her husband’s.

She didn’t just respect what he did; she joined him.

I wonder how much we would accomplish if we applied this attitude to our own marriages, relationships, families, and workplaces. Imagine how much more effective our husbands would be if we not only cared about their life work, but tried to help them be better at it. Imagine how much more effective our ‘domestic discussions’ would be, if we persisted in the rational explanation of our viewpoint instead of giving up or blowing up.

Maybe we’d have our own statue somewhere.

Even if we didn’t, I think we’d be remembered for something great.

It’s time to learn the art of persuasion, ladies. And the security to be okay being us, even when those around us – or closest to us – disagree.

Do you have a favorite school project? Or a favorite person in history?

Or, are you a history buff in general? Check out my friend’s History Harbour blog. We can learn a lot from those who came before.


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