Three prominent Massachusetts political couples celebrated an important American first lady and her husband last night, but it was letters of friendship and intimacy, not healthcare policy or a plan for Iraq, that captured the spotlight.
John and Abigail Adams may not have expected their private correspondence to become public knowledge, but two centuries later a crowd filled Faneuil Hall, as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56, Gov. Deval L. Patrick ’78, and former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and their wives read aloud from the letters.
“Miss Adorable,” Patrick began last night, pausing for effect and looking at his wife as the audience—which included people from places as far flung as South Carolina—giggled.
John Adams, who graduated from Harvard in 1755, was the second U.S. president and one of Massachusetts’ founding fathers. His wife, Abigail Adams, has long been recognized as a pioneer feminist in Revolutionary America.
“I thought she was way ahead of her time, she was an extraordinary model for women,” said Kitty Dukakis in an interview after the event. “As my mother used to say, ‘without being obnoxious about it, there was something very refined and special about her.’”
The event featured one of Abigail’s most famous letters, written March 31, 1776, which urged her husband to “Remember the Ladies.”
“If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation,” Diane Patrick read, throwing pointed looks at her spouse.
“You are so saucy,” he returned, as ripples of applause and laughter erupted from the crowd.
The event was held in honor of the release of a new collection of their correspondence, “My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams,” published last month by Harvard University Press. Some critics have said the book underplays the role of Abigail in refining her husband’s views on women.
“Neither [forward writer Joseph J.] Ellis nor, for that matter, the editors call the reader’s attention to the ways in which Abigail boldly challenged John,” historian Mary Beth Norton wrote in the New York Times Book Review earlier this month.
Harvard history professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich offered her own take on the event’s cultural relevance.
“I suspect that the current focus on the potential candidacy of a former First Lady might make the relationship between another former First Lady and her husband intriguing,” she said.Originally published: Tuesday, November 20, 2007 by The Harvard Crimson (link)