By Woody Holton
(Free Press, Hardcover, 9781416546801, 512pp.)
Publication Date: November 3, 2009
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Winner of the Bancroft Prize
In this vivid new biography of Abigail Adams, the most illustrious woman of America's founding era, prize-winning historian Woody Holton offers a sweeping reinterpretation of Adams's life story and of women's roles in the creation of the republic.
Using previously overlooked documents from a host of archives, Abigail Adams shows that the wife of the second president of the United States was far more charismatic and influential than historians have realized. One of the finest writers of her age, Adams passionately campaigned for women's education, denounced sex discrimination, and matched wits not only with her brilliant husband, John, but with Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. When male Patriots ignored her famous appeal to "Remember the Ladies," she accomplished her own personal declaration of independence: Defying centuries of legislation that assigned married women's property to their husbands, she amassed a fortune in her own name.
Adams's life story encapsulates the history of the founding era, for she defined herself in relation to the people she loved or hated (she was never neutral): her mother, whom she considered terribly overprotective; Benjamin Franklin, who schemed to clip her husband's wings; her sisters, whose dependence upon Abigail's charity strained the family bond; James Lovell, her husband's bawdy congressional colleague, who peppered her with innuendo about John's "rigid patriotism"; her financially naÏve husband (Abigail earned money in ways the president considered unsavory, took risks that he wished to avoid -- and made him a rich man); Phoebe Abdee, her father's former slave, who lived free in an Adams property but defied Abigail's prohibition against sheltering others even more desperate than herself; and her son John Quincy, who worried her with his tendency to "study out of spight" but who fueled her pride by following his father into public service, rising to the presidency after her death.
At once epic and intimate, Abigail Adams sheds light on a complicated, fascinating woman, one of the most beloved figures of American history.
Abner Linwood "Woody" Holton, III, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Richmond in Virginia and is a member of the Richmond Research Institute. He has published two award-winning books: Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution (2007), a finalist for the National Book Award; and Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia (1999). Holton received his B.A. in English from the University of Virginia and his Ph.D. in History from Duke, and is currently an associate professor at the University of Richmond. Holton has received numerous awards, including three from the Organization of American Historians (OAH). His first book, Forced Founders (in which he argued that Jefferson, Washington, and other Virginia gentlemen rebelled against Britain partly in order to regain control of Native Americans, slaves, and small farmers), received the OAH’s prestigious Merle Curti award for social history. In 2006, the OAH named Holton one of its Distinguished Lecturers. Holton’s article, “‘Divide et Impera’: The Tenth Federalist in a Wider Sphere,” was selected by a panel of distinguished scholars for publication in the OAH’s Best American History Essays 2006. Holton received a Guggenheim Fellowship for the 2008-09 academic year to write ABIGAIL ADAMS and today lives in Richmond with his wife Gretchen Schoel (the director of an organization combating prejudice against Arabs and Muslims) and their daughter Beverly.