Why wasn’t she in one of my books as a kid?

It’s natural to look at the past of the United States and vilify it.  This country has done horrific things and it is not the land of freedom we teach children to sing about.  But, like any group of people, very few communities are all bad or all good.  We’re human and with that humanity comes our tremendous capacity for both love and hatred.  Along with our atrocities, there are numerous tales of bravery, valor, random acts of kindness, fierce loyalty, otherworldly feats.  During some afternoon reading with our oldest, I learned that there were no slaves in the White House while Abigail Adams was first lady.  As a woman myself, this decision speaks volumes about the power of choice, regardless of station.  I knew that Abigail begged her spouse to “remember the ladies” and that he did not, or chose not to, but I did not know that she intentionally didn’t have slaves.  During her time, women had no real rights, but there was a societal expectation that women did have authority to mostly run their houses as they pleased, at least as it pertained to day to day needs.  Not only was it socially acceptable for women in higher spheres to have slaves, some might say it was expected.  By having only paid servants or doing the work herself, Abigail made it clear through her actions that she did not believe slavery was acceptable and being the wife of the president did not change that.  She could have given in to the norms of the time.  It might have even caused some to feel she was fulfilling her duties to her country more appropriately.  It took a century and a half for her wish that ladies be remembered to come true.  Her wish that slavery be abolished didn’t take as long, but still too long for her to see it happen.  Her gumption is thrilling.  Despite being extremely restricted by her gender, she still tried to do the right thing within those restrictions.  She didn’t have a vote to end slavery as a woman in the early decades of the United States, but she did have the opportunity not to condone slavery by having it in the White House for all to see and model.  Instead of being complicit, Abigail Adams was extremely bold and she saw the worth in her actions, their weight and their potential.  She acted like she mattered and the people around her mattered, that they deserved an education, to be paid, to live as they wanted, to be free, to vote, to be citizens with full access to the country they lived in.  The law of the country may have said she and others didn’t matter, but Abigail Adams fought that inequality right under the noses of the men who chose to ignore her.  She showed up in my son’s book, and they did not. 


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