Review: Abigail Adams

I have to be honest – biographies are not typically the type of book I reach for; they just haven’t really been an interest of mine. However, I decided over the next couple of years to include one or more in my reading plans each year.

Abigail Adams by Woody Holton, was my slow and steady read for 2016. I finished it up at the beginning of the new year and want to continue with her story this year.

While there are several works on either John or Abigail Adams, this is the first I have read. I enjoyed it immensely.

I imagine it is nearly impossible for a biography to not reflect biases held by the biographer. In this book, I certainly got the impression that the author held Abigail Adams in high esteem, as a woman of great accomplishment in spite of the restrictions that bound women of this time. Abigail was in some aspects very traditional and reserved, but in other ways very forward thinking and strong willed when it came to women’s welfare and interests.

Unlike some other books that primarily reference letters exchanged between Abigail and John Adams (including two I hope to tackle this year), this biography is told primarily through the extensive letters that Abigail Adams exchanged with a multitude of people, not only her husband but her children, sisters, and friends.

I think this allows for a fuller picture of her attitudes and actions, and illustrates the sometimes complicated relationships she had with others besides her husband.

Abigail Adams pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable for women to accomplish and what role she had as a wife. She had a keen business sense and made many financial decisions independent of her husband. Due to John’s frequent absences she effectively was the head of household.

One thing that stood out to me was her drive for personal scholarship. I count myself lucky to be part of a great group of women (well, primarily women, but a few men as well) online who encourage each other to read more, read deeper, and strive for personal scholarship. Abigail Adams gave and received encouragement in this regard as well, in letters exchanged with friends and sisters.

My 2017 reading plan includes two more books that examine the life of Abigail Adams. I’m looking forward to continuing my study!

Upcoming reads:

John Adams, for which David McCullough earned the Pulitzer Prize, which presents the life of the second president and which pulls from the extensive collection of letters exchanged between John and Abigail throughout their long relationship.

My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams is an extensive collection of the actual letters exchanged between John and Abigail.