Dear Abigail by Diane Jacobs

Dear Abigail
The Intimate Lives and Revolutionary Ideas of Abigail Adams and Her Two Remarkable Sisters
Diane Jacobs

Ballantine Books

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". . . an excellent read for lovers of history, biography and feminism."

“One of Sister Cranch’s letters is worth half a dozen others,” stated President John Adams upon being caught reading his wife’s letter. High praise coming from a founding father and not misplaced. In Dear Abigail we are treated to a vivid history of early America observed by three intelligent women, the Smith sisters, one of whom became first lady Abigail Adams.

Mary (Cranch), Abigail and Elizabeth (Shaw/Peabody) were close growing up and grew closer still as circumstances physically separated them. They come alive on the page in their descriptions of the deprivations of war, the long separation of spouses for the greater good, the constant struggle to put food on the table, and the perpetual threat of sickness and death. Each sister expresses a strong yearning for more formal education and the right to speak her mind freely in society, with Abigail admonishing her husband to “remember the Ladies” as the new country forms. Elizabeth wishes to be known for her writing but becomes instead a surrogate mother/tutor as she helps her nephews, one who would become President John Quincy Adams, study to take the Harvard entrance exams. Mary would nurse many sick family members (including her brilliant but unsuccessful husband), but even she longed for more say-so in worldly affairs and to be taken as seriously as the men she dealt with daily while caring for her extended family.

Dear Abigail is an excellent read for lovers of history, biography and feminism. The sisters’ outlook of the social mores and politics of the 18th century is insightful as their unabashed love and support for each other is touching.

Reviewer: Cindy A. Matthews