Remember the Ladies

Abigail Adams - Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Abigail Adams, ca. 1766

Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society 

Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams, was an early advocate for women's rights.  She strongly believed that women should share in decision-making for the household and family business, supporting equal access to education and the ability to own property.  In a letter to her husband, dated March 1776, Abigail wrote:       

"I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” 

Her appeal was lightly dismissed by John Adams and the other founding fathers.

Sarah Smith Indenture

Sarah Smith Indenture / MS 353

By this 1805 indenture, Sarah Smith, a girl in Roxborough township (northwest of Philadelphia), was apprenticed to Daniel Smith for a period of seventeen years and three months to learn the art of spinning.  In exchange for her service, Mr. Smith agreed to provide her “sufficient meat, drink, apparel, lodging and washing” as well as a year and a half of formal education.  As spelled out in the document, Sarah Smith was legally bound to obey her master and to “keep his [trade] secrets”.  Additional restrictions were placed upon her conduct, including limited social interaction and the ability to marry.  Note that neither Sarah Smith, nor an older female relative, signed or marked this document.  The life she knew as a young woman, and her prospects, were determined and shaped by men.