Monday, December 24, 2018

The Second First Lady

Abigail Adams: A LifeAbigail Adams: A Life by Woody Holton
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been looking for a good bios on the nation's founding mothers and I found one!

Having read bios on the male versions of the Washingtons, Adams, Jeffersons, Hamiltons, etc...etc...etc...I wanted to see the revolutionary period through the eyes of the women of the day. Abigail Adams is an important figure of the time and the fact that I didn't know her hardly at all rankled with me. Having read Woody Holton's Abigail Adams: A Life I feel like I know more than I could ever need to know.

I've read and seen numerous books and films on her famous husband John. Each mentioned and portrayed Abigail as a stalwart companion and alluded to her importance to him, but they never went into great detail as to why. They made it clear that the two were a good match, but didn't explain her role in the partnership. Holton has it covered!

As a biographer Holton is often generous and kind to Adams. You can tell she has an ally here in this author. Positive and affirming language was employed in places where negative terms could just as well been used. Example: never once did Holton label Adams a war profiteer, and yet that's just how she kept her family's fortune from ruin and even enriched it. The woman did what she had to and what her husband would not, though he benefited greatly from her efforts and seemed to generally turn a blind eye to anything he might see as being morally beneath him (that being said, there was a whole lotta stuff John thought was morally beneath him!).

What I enjoyed most about this was the look into the domestic side of life during the American Revolution. It's a period I've studied a good deal and usually that study ends up focusing on the war side of things. It's more exciting and there's more readily found information on the fighting aspect, as well as the government-forming period later. How the household was kept together seldom gets much play and so I appreciated that.

It was also great to know one of the country's forerunners in female equality. Like the sign-wielding parade marchers, Adams may have urged her husband when he was forming the new government to "remember the ladies", but more than that, she just went out there and showed how a woman could handle economic affairs, such as starting a business, managing estates and trading on the market. This at a time when women weren't allowed to...well...they just weren't allowed to! The husband controlled the wealth in those days. But Adams got around that and made a success of it. Without her, a lot of a people in her extended family, John included, would have been sunk.

Really solid read! Highly recommended!

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