Lesson 5: Remember the Ladies

Getting Started

While John Adams was serving in the Continental Congress, Abigail maintained their home in Braintree. In this lesson, you'll read more about her interactions with other delegates to the Continental Congress and important figures like George Washington. You'll also explore Abigail's writings to John about women's potential role in the new nation that patriots were beginning to imagine. You'll have the chance to read some of John and Abigail's correspondence for yourself and to consider the roles of women in the revolutionary era.

Stuff You Need

  • Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie S. Bober

Ideas to Think About

  • How do the lives of individuals interact with, influence, and become transformed by the events of the time and place in which they live?
  • How does the availability of primary sources influence historical writing?

Things to Know

  • Biographers rely on a wide variety of sources to help them tell the life story of the person about whom they are writing. They may consult other books and articles about the same person written by other authors as well as primary sources like letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, government documents, images, or material objects.
  • Biographers usually have to strike a balance between using their own words to tell the reader about the person they are describing and showing the reader evidence that supports their account by using quotations from primary sources and specific examples that support the points that biographers are trying to make.


  • Utilize elements that demonstrate the reliability and validity of the sources used (e.g., publication date, coverage, language, point of view) and explain why one source is more useful and relevant than another. (LA)

Introducing the Lesson

In this lesson, your child will learn more about Abigail Adams' life while her husband was in Philadelphia with the Continental Congress. He will read some of John and Abigail's correspondence for himself and consider the roles of women in the revolutionary era.
Reading and Questions
Materials: Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie S. Bober
Read Chapters 9 and 10 of Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie S. Bober. These chapters cover Abigail Adams' life while her husband served in the Continental Congress. Answer the following questions about today's reading.
  1. How did dysentery affect the Adams family?
    John's brother Elihu and Abigail's mother both died of dysentery. Abigail, Tommy (then 3 years old), and several servants were all sick with the disease, and numerous families in their community, including some relatives, lost family members in the epidemic.
  2. How did women of earlier generations influence Abigail and Nabby Adams?
    Abigail Adams remembered and valued the advice that her own grandmother had given her. She hoped that her own daughter, Nabby, would remember the advice that Abigail's mother had passed along to Nabby as well. Women passed down wisdom, advice, and practical skills to their daughters and granddaughters.
  3. Why do you think Abigail shifted from writing to John about "your" affairs on the farm to, instead, referring to the daily business of running the household and managing decisions as "our" affairs?
    Answers will vary, but students should understand that Abigail was taking on more responsibility for decisions, financial affairs, and day-to-day management of the farm than had been typical and had grown to think of these affairs as part of her own concern, and not just John's business that she was managing in his absence.
  4. How were women's rights under English law influenced by marriage?
    Only those who were not dependent on others were thought to have rights. Married women were dependent upon their husbands, so they did not have the same rights that men had.