Saturday, May 11, 2019

Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818), Mrs. John Adams - 1st To Occupy The White House

Abigail Smith Adams (Mrs. John Adams), by Gilbert Stuart, ca. 1800-1815. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

First Lady Abigail Adams is remembered as the 1st to live in the White House, as well an early advocate of women’s rights. Born Abigail Smith in Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1744, she was homeschooled during her youth. This gave her access to the vast libraries of her father & grandfather. She first met her future husband, then a young attorney, in 1759, & they married five years later. Abigail Adams gave birth to 5 children, including future President John Quincy Adams.

Because her husband traveled often, to defend his clients & serve as a representative during the American Revolution, the Adamses’ corresponded frequently. It’s believed they exchanged over 1,100 letters. As John & his contemporaries began to advocate for declaring independence, Abigail encouraged her husband to consider expanding the role of women in the soon-to-be new nation. John Adams did not agree. While espousing women’s rights, Abigail served as John’s closest confidant.

The Adams family became the 1st residents of the newly-constructed White House in November 1800. Although the unfinished residence matched the new capital’s bare appearance, the new first lady entertained guests at official dinners & receptions regardless.

Abigail, who previously lived in official residences, when her husband served as a diplomat & vice president, saw the White House’s potential as a symbol for the nation. Five days after moving in, she described the Ladies’ Drawing Room as “a very handsome room now, but when completed it will be beautiful.”

Abigail Adams moved out of the White House in March 1801, but her legacy there goes deeper than being the 1st “first lady” to live in the building: through the years, contemporary staff reported smelling the lavender scent of laundry she hung in the East Room.

See The White House Historical Association