Abigail Adams: The Colonial Feminist

By | September 6, 2018

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Engraved portrait of Abigail Smith Adams (1744 - 1818), late 1700s. She was the wife of the second American president, John Adams, and the mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth American president. (Photo by Stock Montage/Getty Images)

The founding of America took place during a time of great inequality. Heck, all of the Founding Fathers and members of the Continental Congress had one thing in common – they were all wealthy, white, and male. Although they took strides to eradicate social class hierarchy when they set the framework for the new United States, they did not intend to address issues of racial or gender inequalities. They lived at a time when women had little rights and were viewed as incapable of making rational decisions. Abigail Adams, the wife of America’s second president, John Adams, had her own strong opinions that she often voiced. Her beliefs, although they ran counter to the societal norms of colonial times, makes her America’s first feminist. 

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Abigail Pushed the Limits of Colonial Women’s Roles

With her husband, John, busy setting up a new country or in Europe on diplomatic trips, Abigail was often left to run the Adams’ farm by herself. She was outspoken against the institution of slavery and, unlike many of the other Founding Fathers, she and John Adams never owned slaves. Instead, Abigail hired workers to help her as needed, but she feed livestock and worked in the fields herself. She took care of the family finances, doing a better job at it than her husband did. She also added acreage to their farm by purchasing additional land. In fact, her real estate investments helped the family finances. But she had an eye for the market. When her husband, John, away in Philadelphia, told her to invest in more land, she ignored him. Instead, she invested in public securities that turned a hefty profit.