This formidable, resolute woman with her hand gently placed on the young scholar’s shoulder is Abigail Adams. The boy with the book is her son, John Quincy Adams. We know Abigail chiefly as wife of one President and mother of another.
The statue gives us a hint as to what else she was: teacher, and also student. As was common in the 18th Century, women, even women from respected families as Abigail was, were denied a formal education. But those with means, and a supportive family, could teach themselves, and Abigail was a voracious reader, who displayed her keen intelligence in the many letters she wrote to her husband John Adams and other family and friends.
Abigail did not take education lightly, nor did she use it lightly. Along with educating her own children, she taught other children, including the incident she recorded in a letter to her husband, John Adams, in 1791, when she described trying to help a young black servant boy who asked for her help to get an education. She enrolled him in a local evening school, but several people objected to his admission to the school. Abigail responded he was "a Freeman as much as any of the young Men and merely because his Face is Black, is he to be denied instruction? How is he to be qualified to procure a livelihood? . . . I have not thought it any disgrace to my self to take him into my parlor and teach him both to read and write."
She also believed in equal education for boys and girls. In a letter from March 1776, she urged her husband to "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 husband acknowledged she was better at running the farm than he was.
Here in this statue she places her hand on the shoulder of the future. Her magnificent imprint remains with us.
The statue, which stands next to the United First Parish Church where Abigail and John Adams, and their son John Quincy Adams and his wife, Louisa, are buried, was dedicated in 1997. It was sculpted by Lloyd Lillie, who also did the Katherine Lee Bates statue of Falmouth, Mass., discussed in this previous post.