tv Diane Jacobs Dear Abigail CSPAN January 8, 2017 8:00am-8:47am EST
>> up next, diane jacobs recalls the relationships between abigail adams, elizabeth shaw peabody, and mary cranch. in her book, "dear abigail." she talked about how the sisters stay in constant correspondence throughout their lives, sharing their personal setbacks and achievements. this is about 45 minutes. this was recorded in massachusetts in 2014. this is about 45 minutes. [applause] ms. jacobs: can you hear me now? good. i am so flattered i have this overflowing audience. i am sorry for anyone who is uncomfortable, soon you will be getting chairs. that is what i hear.
well, as carolyn said, this is my book, "dear abigail." it is a book about 18th-century women. mary grant, abigail adams and elizabeth shaw peabody. i know that everyone in this room well know who abigail adams is. in fact, i feel probably living in this environment, you could tell me a lot about abigail that i still don't know. but why, as caroline also said, why is it abigail is the one name we all know? it really is because of her man, because she married john adams. being here today, i feel like i have come home because i have come to john and abigail's home.
and a home that all of the three sisters spent a lot of time in. the other two sisters that i think i know less about, i argue in my book, even though they did not marry presidents, they are equally important and remarkable women. first, there is the older sister, mary krantz -- mary cranch. she was the uncrowned queen of the family because in the puritan family, hierarchy that is very important and she was born first, so she was the first born. she was very important. especially after her brother was disinherited by their father, she was really the one who inherited the first son's role because there was no brother. when she grew up, she proved herself to be a wonderful administrator. even though she was a woman in couldn't be elected to any
position, she was the de facto mayor of quincy and her husband would be appointed to positions, but really, everyone would know mary would take care of everything. and then there is elizabeth shaw peabody, the youngest sister. she always thought neither of her sisters gave her enough attention and was constantly clamoring, listen to me, listen to me. she was also the most literate and the best educated of the three of them. she had the ambition when she was young to grow up to become a published writer. a published letter writer was the golden age of letter writing. she wanted her letters to be published and i will let you
read the book to find out whether that actually happened. but she did become, with her husband, the founder of the second coeducational school in america. so that itself is pretty impressive. the working title for my book is "threefold cord." it speaks to the interwovenness of their bond. a threefold cord is a reference to ecclesiastes and it speaks to of course, it is wound over three times and it is hard to break a cord that is wound over three times. the sisters referred to threefold cord throughout their lives. abigail wrote something that i thought was particularly moving -- "never was there a stronger connection, affection, then that which binds in a threefold cord
, your mama and her two sisters." as i was writing this book i wanted sisterhood to resonate. i wanted the reader to know that while i'm speaking very specifically about three biological sisters, living 250 years ago, that what is true for them can also be true for women today who are not biologically related, who are perhaps best friends. so i thought before i went into more detail i said a little bit about how i came to write this book in the first place. i had just finished a book about the great feminist mary wollstonecraft. i have loved living in the late 18th century. i loved all the drama. i even loved the guillotine, the
revolution, particularly a loved the ideas. i loved what they had to say. and i loved that the character i was writing about had read about all of the same people. so i thought, ok. let me find some other manner woman and follow them through the same time. francophile, as any of my close friends could tell you, so i said wow, if i can think of a french person, i can do paris and the french revolution all over again. but i was having a lot of trouble thinking of a french person who would fit into my category. said,e day, my colleague what do you have against americans? and i don't have anything against americans. i am one.
so about a week later, i was in the shower and all of a sudden i remembered a book that i had calledd 15 years earlier the atoms women. which i believe is in the and mostly, it was about abigail adams and her daughter-in-law. married to john quincy. but there were very tantalizing sections that were about abigail sisters. standing there in the shower with soap coming down my back. i always said this image flash before me of one of the last lines in the epilogue. and it said, someday, somebody will write a biography of the three sisters and i thought, that's me. but then there was a lot of work to be done.
that moment is always so great and then afterwards, there is a groan of oh, no, do a have the material to write this book. the knew that i had wonderful massachusetts historical society. this. that i had and i in you that they would have a lot on abigail adams. but then my question was, what about mary? what about elizabeth? are there letters from them? what did abigail seiji them? what did they say to abigail. what did they say to each other? heard that there was a nice collection of elizabeth shop peabody correspondence at the library of congress. and i went to the library of congress and it was delighted. because there are i found letters from the times when she was a teenager and she was writing her cousin, isaac.
he would give her suggestions shet books to read and would write him back opinions of the books. and she was very contrary. no matter what he said, she said the opposite. i said, this is great. i have this feisty character that i can deal with. and also, it was funny because you can see how isaac was beating her. so one point he writes to her about madame to 78, oh, you must really love this collection because you are just like her. she didn't think much of marriage and neither do you. elizabeth thinking of marriage, she was thinking of marrying isaac. so she was very strong in her reply to that. and elizabethbeth when she grew older and there
were tragedies in her life. leave you to read the book to find that out. but then there was mary. and i thought ok, what do a have on mary? she was the oldest and abigail looked up to her but what else is there about her. did she have any ideas? so i went to the albany institute of history and art. and there is a wonderful collection there. and among the letters that they letter wheres a she sends to abigail, don't you think it is silly that men think that we don't have the same intellect that they have? today, that may seem obvious to us. but at the time, that is anything but obvious. infact, everyone presumed europe and in the colonies that a woman was given two things.
and intellect and a uterus. and if she used her mind, if no wonder she couldn't have children. and if she were children, well, then, no wonder she was so silly and could only think about shopping. because she had always used her one instrument. so mary says this and is speaking about the on gendered mind. i realized i was to learn a lot more about her thoughts, as well as abigail and elizabeth on the powers of women. the rights of women -- the intellectual capacity of women that they all had, that feeling. that there was a strong intellectual capacity of women. and all of them tutored their daughters in the same way that they tutor their sons. material and iof
was going to have to pick and choose because the massachusetts historical society and other libraries had so much information that i was really going to have to decide what to write about. but i hope i did manage to do that. with thesee out three characters and i thought ok, i have enough research material, then i had the problem of how i would structure the book. and i have written to other biographies. with one character. and it was quite easy. the structure. not the writing of the biographies. the structure was easy because i wrote from one person's point of view. now, all of a sudden, i had three people. and i had to see the world three different perspectives. so that i would read you a little bit from the first chapter of my book to give you
an idea about how i approached the sisters and also of who the sisters were. it would have been obvious to anyone who met them that abigail and mary and betsy were sisters. mary was darker and taller and betsy was the slimmest all were small and slender with oval narrow, decisive mouths, smooth noses with shiny brown hair and clear skin. their dark eyes conveyed authority and a marked intelligence. and they shared their mothers butgetic self-confident air were surprisingly delicate. they were the first to catch colds and the last to recover. paralyzed withn rheumatic fever when she was young and her childhood had been more treacherous than mary.
it was a battle of death for her to produce a child. all, the list of them doctor ordered her not to read, write, work or think. that the own humors attacked her body or her mood or she would be impossible to live with, abigail, observed. mary, with her pleasing ways, seemed most like her mother though she seized at the neglect of her mind. we had no one to point us to it. she reminded abigail when they parsonage.ut of the our parents felt the necessity of keeping us from scenes of -- and left the rest to nature. but on the outside, mary was a cheerful first one while abigail was wild. she will either make a very bad or a good woman, a family friend
told her, obviously suspecting the first. in her teens, abigail opposed her mother's authority. she made clear she resented how her mother denied her most innocent request. abigail was often sent away for a long visit to her grandmother. who she sometimes thought she loved more than her own mother. because grandmother quincy did not compare her to marry or review her more than once for a crime. and then there was betsy who was just as high-spirited and less free to express herself. she could not run off to her grandmother's because she was the youngest. brotherke her unmarried , billy, she always had duties to perform at home. billy wasted his chances to learn but grasped and few
moments to read. with a cultivated taste that would arrange wider if one duty or another would call her from her father's books. my approach to the three sisters. i know it just gives you a little taste. and i hope you have a little feeling of who they are vis-a-vis each other. these are my main characters. but they're not my only characters. and as i started writing the book, i realize there were two other important characters in this book. them is the one i was most determined to keep out of the book. john adams. and so much has been said. david mccullough has written the most wonderful book about john adams, who needs me to add anything?
but what i realized was that i so many of these great events that happened, not only in abigail's life that in the lives of the other two sisters revolve around what john adams was doing. so i thought, ok. i hope hee him on and doesn't overwhelm the book. i don't think he has. i filling here is a very important part of it. and i also hope that i haven't -- i hope that i have added something fresh to what we argue no. because we know what a wonderful husband he was and how devoted he was to his children. a feeling that i give for what he was like as a brother in law, particularly to mary's husband, who was a fairy close friend of his. he knew him before he knew abigail. and also, as an uncle.
and john adams is frequently known as someone who would not do favors. say, canfriends would you get me a little job in government but no. even his son-in-law, he said i'm until thehelp them very end. however, for some reason, he felt so warmly towards his ,ephews that when one of them the one who had all the oddities where he would never reveal to do anything in public life, john adams said no, he is my nephew. as hisgot him a job secretary. probably the only job he could have gotten. but he performed so well in the job and he went on to have a fruitful life. and his other nephew that he did a lot for was mary's son, william, one of the midnight judges that was appointed by adams.
is one character. my book begins in 1760 51 written imposes the first of the punishing acts on the colonies. the stamp act. and it ends 35 years later when adams loses his bid for a second term as president of the united states. to thomas jefferson. and abigail goes home to her sisters at last. now, the time is my fifth character. because they are important to all of the sisters. of course to abigail who was frequently in the limelight but really, no less during the revolution, certainly, to mary and elizabeth. they were equally excited and terrified by the battle of boston.
and they were equally astonished when the french navy arrived at the last minute in yorktown and america had won the revolution at last. important tos very the book. they are the times that they lived through. and, also, what was important for me was that they live through the times, through the ideas of the times. and because of what was happening and because in america, we were getting opportunities to start a new, on what it wasns monarch and under a they had ideas of what the ideal nationstate should be. and i soon found that there were
two large impacts on their vision. on all of their vision. and one was the unlike mint. they had already books of the unlike mint. they had already about the views on inequality and the general will. and i had a big impact. and they felt strongly about equality between the races. abigail at one point said to john that she really didn't understand how someone and virginia can have the same passion we have four revolution for the rights of man and women. because they keep slaves. so they had a very strong ideas about equality. on the other hand, they were purists. most importanthe thing in the world was ordered. wasorder for government
particularly necessary. there to be for order, they believed there had to be hierarchy. so that is why the oldest child was the most important. had tot is why one man bow to another man. why one family had a better pew in church then another. so these two were competing with each other in their views of what the ideal nationstate should be. i have my characters now. and i wanted to be an equal opportunity biographer. i wanted to give each of them equal space. and if anything, push abigail a little bit to the side and say ok, you have had your turn. let's hear about the others. and what i wanted to do was in each to her, divide it in three
and do a third on abigail, a third on elizabeth and a third on mary. chaptershat for four and it was a fiasco. getting no narrative out of it and it wasn't working. so what i decided to do was let the story pulled me along. in one chapter, you will find it is abigail and she is going off to paris and london and i'm trusting that everyone will realize, particularly because of the letter she wrote on to her sisters, that they are embroiled in this. so abigail would write a letter and it was known that she would write it to the whole neighborhood. and mary would get the pleasure of having everyone important in the neighborhood come over and she would read it aloud. so i let abigail go off when she did. and then there were other
chapters when mary is trying to find a minister for the first and she is they most important person. and in fact, even john adams thinks she is the most important person in quincy. and one day, abigail catches him opening a letter that mary has written to her. and she is furious. she said how could you open the letter? he said it isn't just any letter, it is from mary. and nobody knows more than married that i'm interested in. so they were involved in that. elizabeth ast with she is the sister who enjoys the most. she is the prettiest and state the most beautiful. a magnificent looking woman.
and she was very much in love when she got married. and then things happened. and so i spent quite a bit of time with her, as well. so i turn out not to be an equal opportunity biographer but i would like to read you a little -- i sort of share abigail's view, a little bit about how abigail felt on equality. a chapter that is right after john adams has been elected vice president and abigail has left mary behind in quincy and has gone off to new york. two weeks later, mary acknowledged the wide gap between her in life and her sisters. you are in the midst of the busy world. i am almost out of it she wrote abigail who had arrived in new
york. john always told abigail that he was dying so she would come and join him. she had been swept up in a social world. their lives in didn't escape abigail, who, after a few weeks away from home, included a letter to the people she loved. i have a favor to request from my near and dear friends. a desire to watch over my conduct. and if they perceive an alteration in me with relation , i beg they would acquaint me with it. within myself the disposition but i know that mankind is prone to deceive themselves. but her words to mary reflected deep review of connection.
separate of luck could the sisters. their souls were intertwined from birth. so abigail found it perfectly natural to circumvent john's approval in using her daughter as a go between and send mary all the pocket money she could spare from her own budget. and she did not have a large budget. anticipating her sisters anguish, she reminded her to not talk about locations. matter and ask yourself if you would not do as much for me. or for elizabeth, she might have added. this view was not a democratic process. nor did she think much of a quality on earth. hierarchy guaranteed order. which was crucial to the survival of mankind. the family ran on a loftier
system of government. she and her sisters differed only in birth order where mary reigned supreme. otherwise, they always had been and always would be equal. harbingers of the more perfect world. so, i would like to hear any questions you may have for me. the fifth character is time. the times. human chant the school? >> it is in new hampshire. i think the first was exeter. and this was the second. and what was so interesting about this was that first of all, the sisters had sent their
elizabeth's first husband. and then their children send their children to her second husband school. write each other. and say it wasn't because of the husbands. because our sister is so literate. and she instilled a love of reading. so was a boarding school. turned out to be very nice. grandchildren and great-grandchildren went. ?es millions of letters. there were so many levels of letters. love eacheally did
other. they were competitive and it would be very boring. mary said that they felt each others pain. and it won't point is that they're better wives than anyone will know. and they saw themselves as equals. to doas very happy everything for abigail's health. and it had to do with the wife of diverse and ultimately the second president of the united states. she felt like they were having such a hard time, i have to help them out. but on the other hand, abigail felt like they had to send silk and anything i can because
i have this opportunity. yes? cb, he gave them the choice whether they freed her or kept her as a slave. and they freed her. and abigail had phoebe and her husband living in her house when they were in europe. and taking care of the house for her. under mary supervision. absolutely. everything. they were all master administrators. the time being the fifth party to the whole thing, with abigail and john, it is easy to
recognize that the time they were in played a major role in all of their lives. others as well? >> very much. in a statentz was legislator and a judge. cindy was also very much part of what was happening. but they saw that they had a chance to make a nation. they said, let's get to the revolution and win it. and that preoccupied them. they said, how can we run this? and they had read the greeks and the romans. so they spoke on a very high level about what their choices were.
well, someone new is famous to me and i was extremely lucky because i am in several biography groups. and when i first announced that i was doing this book, the head of the seminar came up to me and said, i am the five times great-granddaughter of mary. so we have now become good friends. and she is a wonderful woman. she said, i have all of this information. of had private diaries really, sheter and was just a major help to me. and subsequently it was so nice. they went to a bookstore near house and she is sending the
book to all of her relatives. i'm very happy to be associated with them. did john court mary ever? >> no. he came into the house after richard was already courting mary. richard is the one that everyone gives credit to forgetting these girls to read important books. they were serious and they went into their father's library. but they had no one to guide them. and richard came in one day because their father was the minister. dinner at because he immediately fell in love with the 15-year-old mary, or because he was a great guy, he said ok, and he came back and tutored them.
which is like elizabeth is the best educated against she had the longest time with him. >> any information of the quincy library? i got a lot of information from this site. i'm trying to think. i also that a lot from the former minister of the church. i got frome how much the quincy library but i'm sure about something. >> the first national library -- >> oh, yes. i definitely did. and so much was in the massachusetts historical society. >> did there have any major arguments? >> the major arguments were when they were young. mary and abigail were always
joined at the hip. they really felt like -- abigail particular felt like she should listen to us. mary stayed out of it. but there were strong ideas about who elizabeth should and shouldn't marry. she urged elizabeth that it was a great time to come to boston because she was there. and it was the application that he was there as well. and then elizabeth fell in love with the man she married. john shaw. but the only thing i could find was that he was a calvinist.
and she hated john shaw. john said, congratulations, your sisters getting married and she said she wouldn't congratulate her in a million years. and she didn't. she went to the wedding but she never wrote elizabeth when she first moved to where she lived with her husband. mary wrote, how is everything? but not abigail. silence. but then john was sent off to europe. and abigail was devastated. and elizabeth really -- she could read people well. and at that point she wrote to and said, oh, for some people, this is be a wonderful thing to get rid of their husband. but for you, this is really a
tragedy and i want to send my sympathy. and she said, this is awful and then abigail got off her high horse and said oh, how are you. how is your husband? i'm thinking of you as well. so it was resolved. i think because abigail is not married -- she wanted to be older than someone. and at one point in europe, she heard that elizabeth was sick. and elizabeth was still trying take care of students. and she wrote her this letter that said, you can't do this.
you must same bed. this is ridiculous. and then she thought about it and her children were actually boarding with elizabeth at that time. so she thought, wow. maybe i'm being a little hard. so she wrote and said i'm sorry. i know you are a grown woman. i just care about you so much. and elizabeth wrote back, of course. i never mistook anything you ever said even when we were younger. to be calling on your eldership. i know it is because you love me so much. so there continue to be a little bit of rivalry. but very little as they got older. yes?
abigail and like her sister had fun growing up. so how is the adjustment when she got married to john adams and she had kids with no help around the house? well, somehow they had their daughters. i think their mother and even their father came to their houses to help them. and then their daughters were raised to work in the house with them. they were tutored. and they also helped in the house with washday and particularly with betsy, the daughter of mary. abigail brought to servants to europe.
and abigail said, this is fine. this is a man and woman that i trust to take care of everything. but then she arrived in paris and she found out they read you have someone to do each little thing. someone to do your hair. someone to put your dress on. somebody does one room. somebody does another room. so she was very was a full and she had to pay them a fortune which is out of the money that john was being paid so they never had that much money area handle the abigail sun with the alcoholism? >> something that wasn't talked about. the brother did die about all of
them. when the sun became ill, they said he is a problem. and then it became clear he was dying. and she does with it better than john. i found a wonderful letter from john to their youngest son after that losing saying the presidency is nothing. i would have given my life itself for charles to live. see you know how deep the affection was. but it was such a horrible thing. and if anyone coughed, you ignored it.
if you coughed, it might mean you had to break . in au would never mention letter that somebody was coughing. you might say they had a fever. wait on the road, you would find out. the person had to be just about dead to say that. >> you mentioned her briefly, a little while ago, but do you write about in your book, abigail's grandmother? and her relationship with her and how probably it was her grandmother who gave her her independent spirit? did her two sisters have the same relationship with the grandmother? >> no. abigail had the special relationship. abigail was the bad child who had get sent away. and also, it is easier to respect a grandmother.
easier be more forgiving as a grandmother. so mary was always at home to help her mother. and when mary got married, elizabeth could not leave for a while. when the parents were all right, elizabeth lived with john and abigail. but when the parents got sick quite soon, she was home to take care of them. and the grandmother was gone by then. >> when do you believe is the best time to start a new precedent?
>> you mean what time? interesting. i would say childhood? all the different stages matter. i mean from my knowledge of children, you make one impact andre they are six and 10 then they run out of lessons and they seem to forget everything. and later on they are surprised when they remember stuff. but i think they did the best that they could as parents. they were strong parents. and some of them turned out well and some didn't. and so much had to do with luck and with the era.
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