Abigail Smith Adams
November 11, 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts
October 28, 1818, in Quincy, Massachusetts
Abigail Adams was 52 years old when she became first lady. She served throughout her husband John Adams’s term of 1797-1801. Though Abigail was not formally educated, she was naturally curious and intelligent and an avid reader. Abigail also took an interest in politics, which prompted her to support her husband’s political ambitions and advise him in matters important to her. In fact, many believed her influence to be so great that they referred to her as “Mrs. President.”
From 1784 to 1788 Abigail accompanied her husband to his diplomatic posts in Paris and Great Britain, where she observed European manners and society. She enthusiastically shared this knowledge with her friend Martha Washington and subsequently exploited it herself to continue a refined, formal mode of entertaining when she became first lady.
Abigail and her husband moved into the White House very late in his presidency on November 1, 1800. The mansion was in fact not even complete, with many rooms not yet plastered and painted. The city of Washington, D.C., was in fact still at that time mostly wilderness, and Abigail and her driver actually became lost in the woods on their way to the White House. Despite the unfinished nature of the home and area, Abigail was committed to her role as first lady and dutifully hosted dinners and receptions there for the remainder of Adams’ term.
Abigail often gave her husband advice as he worked on the Declaration of Independence. She wrote in a letter to him in 1776, “Remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors! Do not put unlimited power into the hands of husbands.”
Regarding her life in the unfinished president’s house, Abigail noted, “We have not the least fence, yard, or other convenience . . . and the great unfinished audience-room I make a drying-room of, to hang up the clothes in.”