“Remember the Ladies”



March is Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the many contributions women have contributed in our country. At George Washington Birthplace National Monument, our social media policy for the month has been to highlight important women to the history of the National Park Service and/or to George Washington’s life.

By writing the history text and developing what images to use for these posts, I thought I would take this example and expand it to include two other women that played integral parts in the American Revolutionary movement.

Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren.

Abigail Adams
Abigail Adams

Adams, born Abigail Smith on November 22, 1744 in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Abigail did not have the formal education, being taught to read and write at her family home, but would later write; “Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought with ardor and diligence.”

“Ardor and diligence” would be two great nouns to describe Abigail Smith.

On October 25, 1764 she married her third cousin John in which they would rear six children, one of which would grow up to be the sixth president of the United States, John Quincy Adams.

Joseph Ellis, who has written extensively on the founding generation, cites Abigail as one of the most extraordinary women of the generation. She had a sharp intellect, kept up an amazing letter writing campaign with her husband, and voiced concerns, viewpoints, and expressions that would have made her a pioneer in the women’s rights movements of future years.

One of her more famous quotes comes from a letter she wrote to John on March 31, 1776 in which she instructs her husband;

“I long to hear that you have declared independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.”

John’s answer to his wife?

“As to your extraordinary code of laws, I cannot but laugh. We have been told our struggle has loosened the bonds of government everywhere…your letter was the first imitation that another tribe [women], more numerous and powerful than all the rest, were grown discontented.

Yet, even John realized “we have only the name of masters, and rather than give this up this, which would completely subject us to the despotism of the petticoat” who was really the head of the household at Braintree.

Abigail would continue to provide the support, occasional insight, and continuity needed by her husband and family throughout the rest of her life. Her keen intellect and natural curiosity helped her fill tough roles such as the wife of the first minister of the United States in Great Britain and while living in the unfinished White House in Washington D.C.

The treasure trove of letters between John and Abigail show the level of devotion, love, and passing of ideas that the two shared for their entire married life. John may have not remembered the ladies in the summer of 1776 but he never forgot the significance of having one lady as his partner in life.

A good friend of the Adams’ were the Warrens. Dr. James Warren and his wife Mercy Otis Warren, although their relationship did have some rocky moments. Mercy was part of the Otis family which included the early patriot James Otis, a friend and confidant of Samuel Adams.

Mercy Otis Warren
Mercy Otis Warren

Born on September 14, 1728, Mercy Otis could trace her lineage back to the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock but even this illustrious family connection did not provide a formal education. Like Abigail, Mercy would be taught at the house to read and write. Little did her family know that Mercy would take to writing and become one of the Revolutionary Era’s most prolific writers, churning out plays, poems, and pamphlets espousing numerous causes, including American independence and her ideas on whether the United States Constitution should be ratified.

Echoing the sentiment of Bill of Rights activists, Warren showed her political acumen when she wrote, “the rights of the individual should be the primary object of all governments.”

Mercy was not the only one to have politics on the mind, her husband Dr. James Warren, whom she married on November 14, 1754, would rise to be Speaker of the House and President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

Mercy’s seminal work, was the History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution which was published in 1805. The project, which was the culmination of 25 years of hard work, showed Mercy as a leading female writer and historian, which due to the time frame, was outside the norm as those two fields were predominantly male endeavors at that time.

"History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution " (courtesy of LOC)
“History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution “
(courtesy of LOC)

Both Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren embody the truly remarkable personas that marked the Revolutionary Era. With a lack of formal education which neither let constrain their endeavors.

They were just two of the women we should not “forget” when studying the American Revolutionary Era.

What women do you think should also not be forgotten from the Revolutionary Era?

2 Responses to “Remember the Ladies”

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!