Men have written history books, but the women set the score. Here is a small sample of my favorite historical ladies.
1. Abigail Adams
There’s a reason Laura Linney was chosen to portray her in the John Adams HBO miniseries: it was simply perfect casting. Abigail tops many a badass ladies list not only because she married one president and gave birth to another. Abigail was unlike any woman of her time.
Where most men in the 18th century considered their wives only as cooks and baby makers, John Adams constantly sought out his wife’s opinion on many political matters. When John was in Philadelphia during the summer of 1776, she wrote to her husband, urging him to “remember the ladies” during America’s fight for independence. If you love a good romance, a selection of the hundreds of letters they wrote to each other can be found in My Dearest Friend. It’s because of these letters that we have such a documented grasp on the amazing woman she was. Abigail was also an advocate of a woman’s right to own property and education. She believed that women should not submit to their husbands, but should be educated and treated more as equals.
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.”
Abigail to John Adams, March 1776
Abigail is the definitive woman of the Revolution due to her wit, charm, and intelligence. She was unmatched during her time and still revered today.
2. Martha Jefferson
Unlike Abigail, we know practically nothing about the woman who stole Thomas Jefferson’s heart. We aren’t even completely sure the above silhouette is hers. But we do know she was supposedly incredibly beautiful and kind. She was described as exceedingly intelligent, very musical, advanced in needlework, and ran Monticello when her husband was away.
She started the production of beer at Monticello, which Thomas continued for the rest of his own life. Neighbors and even their own slaves adored Martha, and she was often found in the kitchen helping prepare meals when she wasn’t ill. During her term as First Lady of Virginia, she raised fund to support the American troops and joined with the Ladies Association of Virginia to raise $300,000 for linen shirts for Washington’s freezing army.
Martha died when she was 33, after being married to Jefferson for only 10 years. Jefferson never remarried. Her kind and caring nature lives on throughout the numerous places in Charlottesville, Virginia named after her, including Martha Jefferson Hospital.
3. Elizabeth Hamilton
Elizabeth (or Eliza or Betsey, as Hamilton called her) was the envy of all 18th century women when she won the heart of Solider heartthrob, Alexander Hamilton. Together they had eight children before Hamilton’s untimely death in 1804 (See Duel!). Eliza outlived her husband by fifty years, passing away at the age of 97 in 1854. Throughout her life, she staunchly defended her husband against critics and even stood by him during personal scandals. She devoted her life to protecting her husband’s image, hired assistants to sort his papers and recruited biographers to tell his story.
Even though her husband left her with a brood of children and mountain of debt, Eliza never remarried. Instead, she focused her energy on helping those less fortunate by co-founding New York’s first private orphanage, the New York Orphan Asylum Society. In her later years, Eliza lived in Washington DC, where she and Dolley Madison raised money to fund the Washington Monument.
4. Sybil Ludington
We all know the rhyme, “Listen my children and you shall hear/Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.” But Paul Revere wasn’t the only midnight rider, though he is the most famous.
On April 26, 1777, 16-year-old Sybil Ludington mounted her horse, Star, and rode 40 miles, more than twice the distance Revere rode, from Carmel, NY to Mahopac, to Kent Cliffs anad Farmers Mill before returning home, warning residents of the British marching on nearby Danbury, Connecticut.
During the nearly nine hour ride, she galloped through mud and rain, and defended herself against a highwayman with a large stick. Though the soldiers arrived too late to save Danbury, Sybil was hailed as a hero and was even congratulated by General George Washington.
Since 1979, the Sybil Ludington 50k Footrace is held in Carmel, NY and traces her famous route.
Do you have a favorite historical lady? Leave her name and cause in the comments below!