Marlene Wagman-Geller

"As far back as I can remember, it was always on my bucket list, even before the term bucket list was coined,
to be a writer. It was a natural progression to want to go from reading books to writing one."

Remember the Lady

Mar 31, 2024 by Marlene Wagman-Geller


“Give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend.”

–Abigail Adams    


            If one listens intensely enough, the walls of Peace field do talk. They whisper of Founding Mother, Abigail Adams, who admonished the periwigs to share power with the petticoats. To discover an intriguing slice of America, explore the Old House at Peace field.

            The leader of the pack of First Lady as political partner began with Abigail, born in 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts Bay Colony. (Her birthplace is now a home-museum). She was the second of four children of Elizabeth and the Reverend William Smith, a Congregationalist minister. The realization there was one paradigm for the lasses, and another for the lads, occurred when Abigail and her sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, remained home while their brother, William, attended school. To compensate, Abigail devoured her father’s books on Shakespeare, history, and philosophy. Elizabeth worried about her headstrong daughter though her maternal grandmother approved of her rebellious streak, “Wild colts make the best horses.” 

            Abigail understood the Thirteen Colonies quest for independence as she feared losing her own. What she dearly desired was “a closet with a window that I can call my own.”

            When John Adams visited Reverend Smith, he met fifteen-year-old Abigail, ten years his junior. Two years later, he was calling Abigail “Miss Adorable”; she referred to him as “dearest friend.” After John asked her father for her hand in marriage, Abigail felt her mother should likewise have been consulted. After overcoming their misgivings that the country lawyer would prove a poor provider, the couple wed in 1764 in a ceremony presided over by Reverend Smith.

            Their home–inherited from his father–was in Braintree, later known as Quincy. They had daughters Abigail, (Nabby), Susanna, (Suky), who passed away as a toddler, Elizabeth, who was stillborn, and sons John Quincy, Charles, and Thomas. The Adams relocated to Boston where their social circle included John’s cousin Samuel Adams and John Hancock. John became the non-fictional Atticus Finch when, amidst public condemnation as the Redcoat lawyer, he defended eight British soldiers accused of killing five colonists during the Boston Massacre.

            In 1774, John left for Philadelphia as a delegate for the First Continental Congress while his wife returned to Braintree. Duty dictated that the couple remained apart for more than half their marriage which led Abigail to write, “I shall assume the Signature of Penelope.” He directed Abigail to “elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage.” Thomas contracted dysentery, and Elizabeth died from the disease while caring for her grandson. 

            At the Second Continental Congress, John received Abigail’s plea regarding female inclusion in the new Republic, “Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to ferment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice.” John called her saucy and “I cannot but laugh.” He explained if he did the heroic men would fight as bravely against the “Despotism of the Petticoat” as they had against the despotism of the British. In 2007, the U.S. Mint issued a medal featuring Abigail, quill in hand, inscribed with her famous words. A product of her epoch, Abigail believed women should remain in the shadow cast by their better halves, “However brilliant a woman’s talents may be she ought never to shine at the expense of her Husband.”

            The minister’s daughter’s serrated teeth eviscerated contemporary Founding Fathers: Benjamin Franklin was an “old Sorcerer,” Alexander Hamilton, “as ambitious as Julius Caesar,” John Hancock, “a tinkeling cymbal.” She chided her grandson for preferring “Jack and Jill” over Isaac Watt’s “Divine and Moral Songs for Children.” She admonished John Quincy to never enter the Senate “with a Beard two days old” as she didn’t want the “World to ask what kind of a Mother he had.” John Quincy’s wife, Louisa Catherine, viewed her mother-in-law as a tiny terror. 

            In 1789, John became the first vice president of the United States, a position he held for the next twelve years. The Adams spent time in Philadelphia, the capital Abigail described as a place of “thorns without roses.” Upon John’s election as president, Abigail was recovering from an illness in a new home they had purchased in Braintree, christened Peace field. The President wrote Abigail, “I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof” President Franklin D. Roosevelt had the words engraved over the fireplace in the state dining room.

            As soon as she was well, Abigail took up the mantle of First Lady. Not impressed with Washington, D.C, she remarked, “It is the very dirtiest Hole I ever saw… a quagmire after every rain.” John and Abigail were the first residents of The Executive Mansion, (it was not called the White House until decades later), which was cold and damp; she used the East Room as a laundry room. A hovering cloud was anxiety over Nabby, Thomas, and Charles. The President confessed to his First Lady, “My children give me more pain than all my enemies.”

             In a nod to Charles Dickens’ first line in A Tale of Two Cities, the year 1800 was “the best of times, the worst of times.” The First Couple were extremely proud of John Quincy who was garnering accolades as the first U. S. minister to Russia, and later became Secretary of State. In contrast, John had disowned Charles due to his marital infidelity and alcoholism–a disease that claimed his life at age thirty. A blow to John’s ego was losing to Thomas Jefferson in the presidential election. Abigail wrote of her husband’s heartaches, “When he is wounded I bleed.”

            The Adams were delighted that Peace field held their extended family, that they were once more in their native Massachusetts. However, the Grim Reaper came to call. Abby’s sisters and John Quincy’s one-year-old daughter died. Nabby’s husband, William Smith, often abandoned his wife and four children for months, sometimes years, at a stretch. The Smiths lived in a cottage on the grounds of a debtor’s prison. At age forty-eight, Nabby died from breast cancer at Peace field. An indomitable spirit helped Abigail deflect the slings and arrows; she wrote to John Quincy, “I always thought a laughing philosophy much wiser than a sniveling one.”

            Abigail undertook her final act of rebellion by writing her will. The document was not legal–everything women owned was their husbands–but she knew her dearest friend would honor her dying wish. The disbursement went to her female relatives.

            In 1818, Abigail Adams passed away from typhoid. Her husband of fifty-four years said, “I wish I could lay down beside her and died too.” Six years later, John Quincy became the sixth president. Not until 176 years later would Barbara Bush have the same dual distinction.

Peace field: Stepping across the vine-covered portico is to enter the cradle of a political dynasty. The mansion, the home of President and First Lady Abigail Adams, and President John Quincy Adams, is known as The Old House because the Adams National Historical Park also includes the birth places of John and John Quincy Adams. John was more comfortable in his homestead than he was in the White House, “Let me have my Farm, Family, and Goose Quil, and all the Honours and Offices this world can bestow, may go to those who deserve them better, and desire them more. I covet them not.”

             John and Abigail purchased their home in 1787, and it remained in their family until 1927. On view are the second-hand tables and chairs that the thrifty couple brought back from the sojourn in France. Louisa Catherine’s handiwork is on display in the knitted bedspread. A wooden cradle likely held the infant, John Quincy. The Memorial Room holds the locket John gifted his wife. In the Long Room are portraits of Abigail, John, and John Quincy. The furniture includes a “Louis XV sofa,” that the family used in France, Philadelphia, Washington, and Quincy. On either side are chairs that could accommodate hoop skirts. A four-seat ottoman is in the center of the room. Behind the ottoman is a double Victorian chair with a built-in sewing box. The mantel over the fireplace displays a French clock, Chinese vases, and matching candelabras. In the second story is John’s study where he spent his retirement. His inlaid wood secretary desk stands against a wall; on its surface, he wrote the 1783 Treaty of Paris. At age ninety, John passed away in his study on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of his signing the Declaration of Independence. Allegedly, his last words were, “Jefferson survives.” He was wrong; Jefferson had died four hours earlier in Monticello. The building holds the desk where John drafted the Massachusetts Constitution. For all the fiery Founding Mother did on behalf of the new Republic, America should remember the lady.

A View from Her Window


Nearby Attraction: The United First Parish Church

 The United First Parish Church-The church of the Presidents- white crypt holds four granite sarcophagi, the final resting place of John, Abigail, John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams.