Ladies Guide to History: Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams by Lynne Withey



“I desire you would Remember the Ladies… Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to forment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Repersentation.”

– Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams is often thought of one of the United States first feminists and in some respects, this is certainly true. She believed that women were not, as often thought, the intellectual inferiors to men and many of her actions back this up. In Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams Lynne Withey discusses Abigail’s life and her contributions to the newly formed United States and to feminism. 

Who Was She?

Born in Weymouth Massachusetts to a popular church minister. Abigail was raised in a typical Massachusetts household where she received the education that a woman could expect for one of her class when destined to marry, run a household and raise children. But most important to her was her access to the books in her father’s library. He was one of many who encouraged her to pick up not only the books aimed at women but also books a wide array of subjects allowing her to gain an informal education that allowed her to keep up intellectually with the men in her life.


Then a man entered the scene. Hilariously, the author recounts how dismissive the two were of each other at first. But they seem to have gotten over their first impressions fairly quickly. They soon married and settled into their home in Braintree and they started their family. John believed in and in many cases relied on her intellectual abilities, even though she herself was sometimes embarrassed about her lack of a formal education. But she was a keen observer and commentator of political situations and John often relied on her commentary and observations. He also encouraged her intellectual pursuits (as well as his daughter’s). He had such faith in her that he would show the letters she had written him to the Continental Congress reporting on the situation in Boston and the surrounding areas.

Abigail’s life seemed to revolve around two things, the first was separation. She was constantly separated from John when he traveled as a lawyer when he was selected for the Continental Congress, then named as one of the Ambassadors to France. Finally, after an excruciatingly long period of separation from John, she joined him when he was appointed as ambassador to England. But it came with a caveat she would now be separated from her family and her sons. This leads to the other driving force in her life, duty. She believed in duty to one’s country and felt the country needed John more than she did although, sometimes she felt sorely tried at the separation. One voice could have convinced John to neglect his duty to his country and that was Abigail’s. But she always resisted because her sense of duty to the country was just as strong as John’s.

Eventually, the country recognized John’s leadership skill and elected him as Vice President and when George Washington resigned, elected him as President. Abigail of not the best health stayed at home during most of his vice presidency (except for the first term) but she did stay with John throughout his Presidency. Even the last year when the Capitol moved to Washington, DC. Throughout John’s presidency, Abigail was pretty much his most relied on advisor. But then John’s political career came to an abrupt end and with it Abigail’s. However, they were now able to focus on their family especially their Grandchildren which seemed to always be running around their house.

How was the Book?

Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams by Lynne Withey was a compelling portrait on one of America’s most famous woman. It was a wonderful account of the woman herself beyond her as a feminist but as a woman. It included all her idiosyncrasies and contradictions. How she believed that women were not intellectually inferior to men but believed that their place was in the home. The author did a fantastic job of including textual evidence that supported her assertions. The quotes she picked were relevant and ultimately showcased Abigail’s spunk, happiness, her longing for John during their long separations and her heartbreak in times. But the author highlights the steadfast nature of her relationship with John. The author demonstrates how they were partners in everything they did and had complete trust in everything the other did.

The author did a good job of balancing between Abigail’s story and John’s story which I believe would be rather hard because they are so entangled together. It would be quite easy to get carried away in John’s story. But I never found myself wondering when the author was going to get to Abigail’s story or wondering what was happening because the author had neglected to explain what was happening with John that impacted Abigail’s story. But I found the author could at times rely on hyperbole to make her point. Ultimately her writing was well done. It wasn’t overly academic but rather accessible. I think that this would be a place to start reading nonfiction. Ironically, I also recommend John Adams by David McCullough to new nonfiction readers as well.

Previous Ladies Guide Posts:

Lucrezia Borgia

Hildegard of Bingen 

Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley 

Marian Anderson

Eleanor of Aquitaine 


6 thoughts on “Ladies Guide to History: Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams by Lynne Withey

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