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Lost Women of History: Abigail Adams

At some point during their education, American students learn about John Adams: an American founding father, the country’s second president, and an advocate of American independence from Britain. However, he was not an advocate for the independence of women, and unfortunately, most students never have the opportunity to learn about his wife Abigail Adams, who was.

Before she became John Adams' wife, Abigail Adams was the daughter of a respected Massachusetts minister. Because the colonists followed the British practice of denying women formal education, she never received proper schooling and became a wife and mother to six children. While her husband fought for his country’s freedom, his wife raised their children and managed their home and farm while coping under the strains of war. These constraints, however, didn't stop her from also planting the seeds for women’s rights in America.

While Adams contributed to shaping the political landscape of America, Abigail wrote to her husband and encouraged him to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.”  Though she made this request hundreds of years ago, it's depressingly relevant today as we still see that women's hardships are often ignored or forgotten by political leaders.  For example, every 90 seconds someone is sexually assaulted somewhere in America and one out of every six American women has been a victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Yet addressing this violence hardly seems to be at the top of lawmakers' agendas: Instead, they are more concerned with curbing our basic reproductive rights.

Because Abigail was so aware of the many rights she did not possess, she warned her husband that there would be consequences if he failed to account for women's rights.  “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 wrote him.

Adams clearly failed to heed his wife's advice and her prediction came true: There's a rich history of feminists who have rebelled and worked tirelessly to bring women closer to equality in this country.  However, it has been a slow and arduous battle.  The first female U.S. Senator was appointed 98 years after Abigail Adams died and today, women hold 104 or 19.4% of the 535 seats in the 114th U.S. Congress. Women have made significant progress in the fight for equality, but we still have quite a way to go.

The important thing to remember, though, is that ultimately a man’s power over a woman is arbitrary. Abigail Adams reminded her husband of this when she wrote, “Arbitrary power is like most other things which are very hard, very liable to be broken; and, notwithstanding all your wise laws and maxims, we have it in our power, not only to free ourselves, but to subdue our masters, and without violence, throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet.” I am confident that my generation of women will build on the dreams of women like Abigail Adams and continue to work to break the arbitrary power of men over women and achieve all the independence and respect all people deserve.



More articles by Category: Feminism, Politics
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Women's leadership, Women's history
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Chloe Hallinan
WMC Fbomb Editorial Board Member
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