The Historical Writer’s Forum, of which I am a member, is publishing an anthology – due November 1, 2022 – of short stories from eight authors, including me. The theme for the collection is What If. Eight talented history writers imagine what might have happened in their era, if only certain events, people, or circumstances were different. Samantha Wilcoxson, Stephanie Ling, Salina Baker, Karen Heenan, Cathie Dunn, Elizabeth Corbett, Virginia Crow, and I all apply our historical knowledge of an era and individuals to spin tales that will draw you to wonder.
When I was asked to contribute to this collection, I was working on three books at once, one of which was Washington’s Drummer Boy, concerning the American Revolutionary War. The request came soon after the leak of the United States Supreme Court decision concerning the repeal of Roe vs. Wade. I immediately thought of Abigail Adams and her appeal to her husband John concerning the rights of women. Abigail later became the second First Lady of the United States, wife of John Adams, and mother of another president, John Quincy Adams.
Abigail, in real life, was not greatly religious or formally educated. She had a basic belief in God and was quite familiar with the Bible and Shakespeare. Her lack of formal education was no barrier to a well-developed mind and a love of knowledge. Though she requested that her letters be burned at her death, they were not, with the result that there is a rich correspondence of over two thousand letters between Abigail, her husband John, and various other correspondents including Jefferson, Washington, and many of the luminaries of the American Revolution. She even carried on a clandestine correspondence with Thomas Jefferson of which her husband was unaware, and was instrumental in mending the relational breach between her husband and Jefferson.
In one of her letters to her husband John, Abigail famously requested that since the laws of the new nation were to be written, he should “remember the ladies”. At the time, most women had no right to vote or own property once they married. Abigail saw no reason why women should not have these rights.
At a time in our country where women’s rights (and obligations) are so much the topic of discussion, it simply occurred to me to ask, “What if women had possessed the right to vote from the beginning of our nation? Could it have happened? How?”. From there the obvious question is what might have been different in our history if women had a say in it, a formal say, at the ballot box.
That’s a lot to put in one short story. I stuck mainly to the possibility and the means of it happening. I think it is plausible that it could have happened. If it had, would women have acted to end slavery before 1865 – would the Civil War have happened? Would women have received more equal opportunities in education and the workplace? I think it is reasonable to suppose that they would have and that as a result, the sociological evolution of our American culture would have been different, and probably better. Women could have become political and business leaders. Respect for women as people might have been better “baked in” to our culture.
I think is fair to ask, “What people in our nation are we currently undervaluing, and how can we enable them?” The legacy of Abigail Adams lives on.