It’s been a while since I reported on a completed book. It isn’t because I am not reading. You have all read one of these books—a little boring but a great story.
Abigail Adams, A Biography, written by Phyllis Lee Levin, is one of those books. It is based on Abigail’s letters and journals. The wife of the second president, John Adams, and mother of the sixth president, John Quincy Adams, Abigail was an advocate of women’s rights in a time in our country when women had very few.
While the book did cover Abigail Adam’s life, it also provided a glimpse into our early Nation’s financial atmosphere. Even though women were not allowed to own property of their own, Abigail speculated in some land and a lot of government bonds, many times without her husband’s knowledge. It was obviously the opinion of the author that because of Abigail’s handling of their affairs, the family remained financially secure in a time when many public servants were not.
Medicine was very basic at that time although doctors were surprisingly understanding of major illnesses. One of the most astonishing parts of the book is when Abigail’s oldest daughter Nattie was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy with only opium as a anesthetic. This was a time of little antisepsis as well. Apparently she recovered from the operation but did not undergo a second surgery when cancer reoccurred in her other breast. She eventually died of the disease at a fairly young age.
Children were often not named until they were nearly one year old because of the high death rate. Many adults and children died of fevers and lung problems as there were often no treatments available.
Many of Abigail’s family suffered early deaths and she gladly took all orphaned children under her wing throughout her life.
This book is most importantly a love story between Abigail and John. They remained close, connected many times only by letters, despite separation due to John’s involvement in politics. She was his confidant and he valued her opinion.
Historical biographies are becoming some of my favorite books. The history of our country lies there and they help me understand what has made our nation great. As I said, this is not a light read, but well worth the effort if nothing else to learn how it was to live in the late 1700s in America.