Roles of Women During the Federalist Era

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The Federalist Era is defined as a time when the Federalist party was dominant in American politics, as measured by its control of the United States Congress. During the Federalist Era, America had truly begun to develop as a country. The United States Constitution had been written and revised, and John Adams was running the nation as the second president. Although America was rapidly developing, the rights and views of the American women were not. Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, yearned for the opportunity to change the way women were viewed as a whole. Being an educated, literate women, Adams was able to use her schooling and knowledge to her advantage as being a learned woman was not common during this time in the history of the United States. Hoping to accomplish her goal of expanding women’s roles and positions in all parts of society, she often wrote long, thorough letters to her husband since she and their children did not relocate to Washington when John was elected. In these famous letters, Abigail Adams requests that the government keep women in mind while writing laws and establishing new rights for American citizens. She also touches on the education of women and family dynamics as she herself was not like most of the women who lived during the Federalist Era. John Adams often responded to these letters with his own opinions, and the married couple continued writing throughout his entire presidency. The roles of women during the Federalist Era regarding women in politics, women in education, and women in families are explained and depicted throughout the letters and writings of both John Adams and Abigail Adams.


Women’s roles in politics during the Federalist Era were virtually nonexistent as men did not believe women had the intellect or rights to participate in such an important, essential part of America’s advancements in society. In Abigail Adams’s letter known as “Remember the Ladies,” she asks John Adams to make a change concerning women’s position in the political field of society. It is evident that women had been disregarded continuously for a long period of time when Adams writes, “I long to hear that you have declared an independancy–and by the way in the New Code of Laws which I supposed 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” (Adams as cited in Hogan). Not only does she explain the state of women in politics, but she also begins her proposition to John Adams. She goes on to explain that the lack of representation of women in the political scene must come to an end, and she even threatens to form a rebellion when she writes, “If perticular 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” (Adams as cited in Hogan). Adams’s goal in writing such a powerful letter to her husband John was simply change. As an educated woman, Adams was an early advocate for women’s rights (Withey 82). Adams’s role concerning both John and politics is summarized through: “Although she never presumed to press her ideas on John, she did offer her advice, and he came to depend on her as his closest confidante” (Withey 253). This shows how Abigail, unlike other women, expressed her political opinions and was respected. The similarities between Abigail Adams’s and the total population of American women’s roles in politics are expressed when Gelles states, “For a women to make such a claim on men’s power was remarkable in early American history. Abigail did not make the statement publicly but rather privately in a letter to her husband. She did not intend for it to become public. She would have been mortified had she suspected that it would be read by any other person than her husband” (15-16). This draws attention to the fact that although Adams expressed her political ideas, she still knew and feared that being an outspoken woman would have been frowned upon. Although women’s suffrage did not become popular in America until years after Abigail Adams and John Adams, it is likely that Abigail Adams did support women’s right to vote (Withey 82). While the letters of Abigail Adams and John Adams do reflect the roles of women in politics, Abigail Adams did not defend women’s rights in only the political scene. 


During the Federalist Era, women’s educational rights were suppressed by the American society’s view that women’s intellectual capabilities were inferior to men’s. In one of Abigail’s many letters to John mentioning women’s evident lack of education, Abigail defends women’s academic rights when she says:


          If we mean to have Heroes Statesmen and Philosophers, we should have learned women.           
          The world perhaps would laugh at me, and accuse me of vanity, But you know I know
          have a mind too enlarged and liberal to disregard the sentiment. If much depends as is
          allowed upon the early Education of Youth and the first principles which are instilld take        
          the deepest root, great benefit must arrise from literary accomplishments in women   
         (Adams as cited in Hogan).


When Abigail writes this, she not only proves that women obviously lacked the education that men had access to, but she herself also writes that the world would disapprove of her proposal to educate women. John responds to Abigail’s letter, providing a pure example of men and their lack of approval for women’s education: “The first by Reason of her sex, requires a Different Education from the two I have mentioned” (Adams as cited in Hogan). When referring to this “different education,” John Adams quite obviously meant that women need education when it comes to cooking and children as those were the common duties of a woman during this era. Abigail Adams believed that women do have the same mental capacity as men, and therefore, they should be given the same education (Gelles 170). Even Abigail’s own writing was not standardized, which shows that even the most learned women were lacking equivalent educational opportunities. This fact is extremely significant when proving the lack of women’s education as Abigail Adams was considered very bright for a woman living in the Federalist Era (Gelles 20). Women’s education was a relevant, primary issue to Abigail Adams, but women’s lack of education was not the only matter that Adams was passionate about in her letters to John Adams.


The roles of women in families during the Federalist Era were utterly consumed by taking care of the household, husband, and children. The common American woman did not have a job, and she was considered inferior to her husband, but Abigail Adams disagreed with this. She explains just how powerful men were in families when she writes, “Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could” (Adams as cited in Hogan) asking John to improve family dynamics and revoke some of men’s power over their wives and families. By referring to men as “tyrants if they could,” Adams expresses her disagreement as a tyrant is defined as a cruel and oppressive ruler. Abigail Adams’s views on women’s roles in families are explained by the following quote: “Abigail Adams, for example, argued in letters to her husband that women be given the right to vote and that husbands exercise less authority over their wives” (“The Role of Women in Building a New Nation”). Adams was a proponent for the abolishment of patriarchal ideas; however, she did mention in her writings that men should support families financially (Withey xi). Abigail Adams, as usual, was a special case with reference to the average American woman in the Federalist Era. Because John was the president, Abigail was left to play both parts in her family, both the man and the woman (Withey 24). Her letters, nonetheless, defend the women who did not play both parts. As First Lady, Adams had the responsibility to be an advocate for women’s rights. She spoke for the women who were left to be seen not heard (Gelles 17). Women’s roles in families during the Federalist Era were consumed by watching the house and the children, while the men of families were expected to work and protect.


Through the letters of John and Abigail Adams, the roles of women during the Federalist Era are exemplified, concerning women in politics, education, and family life. Throughout Adams’s letters, women’s limited position regarding political matters is demonstrated by her requests for John and threat for rebellion if no significant change becomes evident. Letters similar to “Remember the Ladies” depict the unfair advantage men had in politics and express the need for modification. Her letters defending women’s rights to education prove that women did not have access to the schooling and educational tools that men had full access to, and John Adams’s letters suggesting “different education” prove that men did not agree that women needed education at all. The role of women in families, completely revolving around staying home and caring for children, is discussed in Abigail Adams’s letters to John Adams, asking for a way to end men’s supreme position of family dynamics in the Federalist Era. Overall, the role of women in the Federalist Era consisted of unfair treatment and unequal rights that did not improve until years later. However, Abigail Adams, “the first feminist,” and her letters can be a positive reminder that women are, in fact, equal to men and have the capacity to inspire modern day young women everywhere and always that change is possible.






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