Home motherhood/family/parenting Gleaning From the Past….Why Not?

Gleaning From the Past….Why Not?

by Kelly Crawford

This picture of Kyla has little to do with the post, but I like it 😉


I find it barely amusing that most people disdain looking to the past for any example by which we might pattern our lives, and yet past generations–intellectually, morally, spiritually and every other way–put us to shame when we compare.

I personally love gleaning wisdom from those brilliant and stout figures of history who raised exemplary children, fully understanding that their dedication to such a task would have profound, generational influence on the entire nation.  

Abigail and John Adams  were such figures.  I just had to share some of their thoughts and insights about Abigail’s role as a mother and wife…

In this thought Abigail wrote to John, can you hear the contrast in what was taken so seriously then and how today we almost embrace the opposite “wisdom”?

“I have always thought it of very great importance that children should, in the early part of life, be unaccustomed to such examples as would tend to corrupt the purity of their words and actions that they may chill with horror at the sound of an oath and blush with indignation at an obscene expression….”  (emphasis mine)

And what does the modern parent say?  “Children need to be exposed to “real life” (read:  anything and everything) to learn how to cope in the world.”  

(Yes, the Adams children were homeschooled 😉

Here was John’s tender instructions to his wife as his children’s teacher:

“It should be our care to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in these an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue.  If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.”

And how did Abigail perceive herself and her role?  Not very different than many of us…

“I am aware I have an important trust committed to me, and tho I feel myself unequal to it, tis still incumbent upon me to discharge it in the best manner I am capable of.”

John’s letters continually express his admiration and love for his wife, and reveal how this couple was able to live out the biblical picture of marriage (he was the overseer and guide) yet keep a mutual equality and respect for one another.  

It was a recipe for greatness.

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Kristen June 22, 2009 - 4:36 pm

I am reading “John Adams” by David McCullough and am just amazed by the relationship between John and Abigail.

Bethany Hudson June 22, 2009 - 6:18 pm

I love Abigail Adams. What in incredible woman. And, I agree with you about the absurdity of our modern culture to shun the past when looking for wisdom. Personally, this deep appreciation for history is one the reasons I am proud to be Catholic.

Katie LaPierre June 22, 2009 - 9:48 pm

good stuff.

Kim M June 22, 2009 - 10:32 pm

History gives great clarity to the things we wouldn’t be able to “see” otherwise. Thank you for this great post!

Amanda June 22, 2009 - 11:55 pm

Great post, but don’t forget, Abigail Adams was also an advocate of women’s rights:
MARCH 31, 1776

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, 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.

“That your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute; but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up — the harsh tide of master for the more tender and endearing one of friend.

“Why, then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity?

“Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the (servants) of your sex; regard us then as being placed by Providence under your protection, and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness.”

Katie June 23, 2009 - 8:24 am

In response to Amanda, I’m under the impression that how Abagail Adams viewed women’s rights and what we mean by that phrase in the 21st century are not terribly similar. She was asking that the men consider treating women more equally under the law, things like allowing women to own their own property, be held liable for their own wrongdoings in court, etc. I think she would be apalled to see what the feminists from the mid-1960s to today have done and wouldn’t condone any of it.

Elizabeth June 24, 2009 - 10:28 am

How funny. I am almost done reading McCullough’s biography of John Adams myself, and I spent recently spent a day touring the Adams homes in Quincy, Massachusetts. I guess the Adams family is all the rage right now, thanks to the wonderful Mr. McCullough and that HBO mini-series.

John & Abigail Adams and Jane Austen seem to be in the same category — beloved by both liberal feminists and anti-feminist fundamentalists, not an easy trick to pull off! The fact is that we can’t identify these historical figures in modern political / cultural terms because they were dealing with such different issues in a very different society. Though I personally believe (in contrast to Katie) that both John and Abigail Adams (and especially Abigail) would have approved of much of second wave feminism, I recognize that we simply do not know what they would have made of modern society. They were certainly pretty liberal for their era.

One thing that surprised me when I visited Quincy was that both John and Abigail are buried in their family church — which was at the time (and is) Unitarian, an extremely unorthodox demoniation. Even back then, if I remember correctly, the Unitarians denied the Trinity (hence they are Unitarians), the inerrancy of the Bible, and the concept of eternal damnation.

Elizabeth June 24, 2009 - 10:40 am


That quotation from Abigail Adams has always been a favorite of mine. Despite her jokey tone, I think she absolutely meant what she said 100%. What is disappointing is John Adams’s patronizing and dismissive response, in which he falls back on the old saw that in reality, despite having no political power, the women were “really” in charge. You can read the response here:


I think that this response illustrates why feminism is so important. Even the most liberal and broad-minded men, like President Adams, too often fail to take seriously the notion that women too have a self-evident unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


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