The Education of Abigail Adams

The Education of Abigail Adams
Abigail Adams: First Ladies' Lives

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: Two to three class periods


For a variety of reasons, Abigail Adams did not ever go to school.  However, she was very well educated and left a lasting legacy of letters, not only to her husband, John Adams, but also to a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. 


After participating in this lesson, students will have a greater understanding of the possibilities of learning outside of school; will know a good deal about the second First Lady of the United States and her times; and will gain practice in research and synthesis of data.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet.  Library books or other materials on the life of Abigail Adams.


1.  Students should read the biography of Abigail Smith Adams provided on the First Ladies Library web site, and undertake additional research on her life from the sources listed below:
2.  Then, individually or in small groups, students should write a description of her education, being sure to answer the following questions:
  • How and where was Abigail Smith educated?
  • Who was important in her educational life?
  • Why didn’t she go to school?
  • Why didn’t she go to college?
  • How did she “substitute” for a college education?
  • Would you like to have the kind of education Abigail did? How would your life be different if you didn’t go to school?

3.  As a culminating activity, students can discuss what they have found in class, particularly what they have learned about the education of girls in the 18th century American colonies.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson could be extended by using any aspect of the materials gathered about Abigail Adams’s life, in addition to her education, to enable students to understand more about life in the 18th century at the beginning of the nation.

Sources & Resources:

     Davis, Kate.  Abigail Adams. Blackbirch Press, 2002.
     Ferris, Geri Chase and Beier, Ellen.  Remember the Ladies: A Story About Abigail Adams. CarolRhoda Books, 2000.
     McCarthy, Pat.  Abigail Adams: First Lady and Patriot. (Historical American Biographies). Enslow Publishers, 2002.  
     Sabin, Francene.  Young Abigail Adams. Troll Communications, 1996.
     Wagoner, Jean Brown.  Abigail Adams: Girl of Colonial Days (Childhood of Famous Americans).  Aladdin, 1992.
    Whitehouse Biography of Abigail Adams

     Abigail Smith Adams

     First Lady's Library Biography of Abigail Adams

     Abigail Smith Adams (by her son, Charles Francis Adams)


This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.