As we make our brunch reservations, choose the perfect greeting card, and make the rest of our preparations for Mother’s Day this Sunday, let’s not forget the women, the mothers of our nation, who took a stand for women’s rights and blazed the trail for future movements. Men such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, and John Adams for example, are revered as founders of our nation, but these great men could not have changed the course of history without the support of women.
In 1976, during the Bicentennial of the American Revolution, the United States Information Agency (USIA) released a video entitled, “Women and the Spirit of ’76, 1976” (National Archives Identifier: 50455). The purpose of the video was to showcase the American Revolution as a catalyst for the modern Women’s Movement and to recognize the women of 1776 as its leaders. Abigail Adams, Phillis Wheatley, Mercy Otis, and Molly Pitcher were among the women who were honored.
When I stumbled upon this video footage, Abigail Adams stood out to me. It was easy for me to see why USIA would acknowledge Abigail Adams as an advocate for Women’s Rights. Her correspondence to John Adams is famous for passages such as this, below, that reminded her husband that women were worthy of the same freedoms as men:
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 favourable 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 perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.
I can not say that I think you very generous to the Ladies, for whilst you are proclaiming peace and good will to Men, Emancipating all Nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over Wives. But you must remember that Arbitary power is like most other things which are very hard, very liable to be broken — and notwithstanding all your wise Laws and Maxims we have it in our power not only to free ourselves but to subdue our Masters, and without voilence throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet
“Charm by accepting, by submitting sway
Yet have our Humour most when we obey.”
Yet, Abigail’s pleas to her husband went unanswered as the men of the Continental Congress deliberated over the Charters of Freedom such as the Constitution (National Archives Identifier: 1667751 ) (page one shown here):
and the Bill of Rights (National Archives Identifier: 1408042 ):
It was not until the 20th century that women were adequately remembered as Abigail intended, and the 19th Amendment (National Archives Identifier: 1633885) to the Constitution was passed on June 4, 1919 and ratified on August 18, 1920.