Abigail Adams on Civic Education

With Regard to Daughters

First Lady Abigail Adams was more than a wife to one president and mother to another.

At a time when society dismissed or even balked at the notion of educating women, her staunch advocacy of women’s education remains a great inspiration for staying true to our founding principle of equality.

Adams believed that the success of the republican experiment required as many “learned women” as it did “Heroes, Statesmen, and Philosophers.”

Gilbert Stuart, Abigail Smith Adams, 1800/1815


Born Abigail Smith in Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1744, like other women of her time, she did not receive a formal education. Instead, she read voraciously from her family’s library, mastering numerous subjects, including literature, philosophy, and history. Her love of learning and insatiable curiosity enabled her to speak knowledgeably on a variety of topics.



Gilbert Stuart, John Adams, 1800/1815,


Abigail soon developed a relationship with a young, pugnacious lawyer named John Adams, whom she married in 1764. The pair produced a copious correspondence of more than 1,000 letters over the course of their marriage, giving future Americans unprecedented insights into the intellectual, social, and especially civic life of the young nation.



In March 1776, Abigail wrote perhaps her most famous letter in which she advised her husband to “remember the ladies” when discussing independence with the Continental Congress. American independence presented men with the rare opportunity to “be more generous and favorable” to fellow and often unsung patriots: their wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters.


To Adams, education was the civic responsibility of both American men and women. Only through education could women play an active role in shaping and strengthening the civic life of the nation.

When her husband complained about the “deficiency of education” amongst his countrymen in a letter written six months later, she noted that most of their countrywomen lacked any educational opportunities whatsoever. “What shall I say with regard to daughters,” she asked him, “who every day experience the want of [education]?”



She wished that “a more liberal plan might be laid and executed for the Benefit of the rising Generation, and that our new constitution may be distinguished for Learning and Virtue.”

From education advocates to abolitionists and suffragettes, American women have nobly contributed to the ongoing progress toward realizing our country’s vision, that “all men [and women] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Abigail Adams is a role model for Americans today who wish to educate the next generation in an honest and responsible manner. As Americans, we are responsible for how our students are taught our founding principles and history, and it is our civic duty to support teachers and scholars who believe in the potential of Americans to realize the equality Abigail Adams called for in 1776.

You can help us celebrate women like Adams by investing in meaningful civic education grounded in America’s history and founding principles.

As Abigail Adams wrote in 1776, “the early Education of youth and the first principals [sic] which are instilled take the deepest root.” The next generation of American sons and daughters are our nation’s roots, and advancing civic education grounded in America’s history and founding principles ensures that they grow and thrive as civic-minded learners and citizens.

This piece also appeared as an article on RealClear Public Affairs.


Elliott Drago serves as the JMC’s Editorial Officer. He is a historian of American history and the author of Street Diplomacy: The Politics of Slavery and Freedom in Philadelphia, 1820-1850 (Johns-Hopkins University Press, 2022).

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