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American first lady
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 received no formal education. Girls were taught reading and writing primarily so that they could read their Bible and write letters. They also learned basic arithmetic to help prepare them for their role as housewives, when they would be required to balance budgets and settle accounts. Although some Massachusetts towns did have primary schools for girls, called "dame schools," most families took responsibility for the education of their daughters at home.
The Smith girls were fortunate to have a father who loved learning and reading and who encouraged his children to share in this passion. To help with their education, William Smith gave his daughters and son full access to his extensive library of excellent books. Abigail shared her father\'s love of books and read widely in poetry, drama, history, theology, and political theory. As she grew older, Abigail became increasingly determined to educate herself, and by the time she was an adult, she had become one of the best-read women of her time.
In spite of this, the gaps in Abigail\'s education bothered her and were apparent in her letters. Her spelling was inconsistent and poor, and her inability to use punctuation properly and her poor penmanship embarrassed her. However, this did not prevent her from continuing in her quest to educate herself and further develop her mind.
For Abigail to have taken such a strong interest in her education was a brave stance for a woman of her time. The primary aim of eighteenth-century women was marriage and family. Education was often viewed as an obstacle that stood in the way of this goal. Women feared becoming too educated, believing that suitors would pass by girls who were "too" clever in favor of those who were more lighthearted and flirtatious.
The first time John Adams met Abigail Smith, he might have been influenced by this cultural bias against intelligent women. The couple met at her sister Mary\'s wedding. Abigail was fifteen, and John a twenty-seven-year old lawyer. In his diary, John wrote that the Smith girls were
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Adams family, Quincy family, John Adams, Conservatism in the United States, Abigail Adams, Women in the American Revolution, Abigail, John Quincy Adams, Quincy, Massachusetts, 1776, Quincy political family, Abigail Adams Smith
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