Abby's dear letters

ABIGAIL Adams, recently honored by the United States Postal Service through a commemorative stamp, was a remarkable woman. She bore five children, tended over hearth and home during husband John's frequent and lengthy absences in the service of his nation, and still managed to pass on to posterity numerous letters that are at once moving and timeless. There were, for example, missives detailing the delights of grandchildren. ``As to [grandson] John, we grow every day fonder of him. He has spent an hour this afternoon in driving his grandpapa round the room with a willow stick.'' And letters illustrating the frustration of housewives during the American Revolution: ``I have a request to make of you,'' she wrote John in Philadelphia in 1775. ``Something like the Barrel of Sand I suppose you will think of it, but really of much more importance to me. It

is that you would . . . purchase me a bundle of pins and put in your trunk for me. The cry for pins is so great. . . .''

Abigail's letters give insight into the cities she visited. London overwhelmed her with its ``Noise and bustle,'' Philadelphia for the fact that for ``two thirds of the year here, we must freeze or melt.''

Then there was Abigail the mother who, via the post, kept her children's best interests in mind. ``Now I hope,'' she wrote to 35-year-old son John Quincy in the nation's capital, ``you never appear in the Senate with a beard two days old, or otherwise make what is called a shabby experience. . . . I do not wish a Senator to dress like a beau, but I want him to conform so far to the fashion, as not to incur the character of singularity, nor give occasion to the world to ask what kind of mother he had or to charge upon a wife negligence and inattention when she is guiltless.''

Finally, Abigail could be a forceful advocate in her letters. ``If you complain of education in sons,'' she reminded John during the infancy of the US Constitution, ``what shall I say of daughters who every day experience the want of it? With regard to the education of my own children I feel myself soon out of my depth, destitute in every part of education. . . . If we mean to have heroes, statesmen, and philosophers, we should have learned women.''

Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at the American University.

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