Congress adjourned on 18 May 1852 for Louisa Catherine Adams’s funeral, according her an honor never before offered a first lady. But her life and influence merited this extraordinary tribute. She had been first the daughter-in-law and then the wife of a president. She had assisted her husband as a diplomat at three of the major capitals of Europe. She had served as a leading hostess and significant figure in Washington for three decades. And yet, a century and a half later, she is barely remembered. A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams seeks to correct that oversight by sharing Adams’s remarkable experiences in her own words.
These excerpts from diaries and memoirs recount her early years in London and Paris (to this day she is the only foreign-born first lady), her courtship and marriage to John Quincy Adams, her time in the lavish courts of Berlin and St. Petersburg as a diplomat’s wife, and her years aiding John Quincy’s political career in Washington. Emotional, critical, witty, and, in the Adams tradition, always frank, her writings draw sharp portraits of people from every station, both servants and members of the imperial court, and deliver clear, well-informed opinions about the major issues of her day.
Telling the story of her own life, juxtaposed with rich descriptions of European courts, Washington political maneuvers, and the continuing Adams family drama, Louisa Catherine Adams demonstrates why she was once considered one of the preeminent women of the nineteenth century.
A fine new sampling of Louisa’s writings… Louisa Adams was highly intelligent, well educated, and well read. She was a talented writer, as her diary and letters—most notably the correspondence she maintained with her father-in-law, after the death of his wife Abigail—reveal.
Allow[s] Louisa to emerge as a subject herself. In the process, she also becomes newly convincing as a source, especially in connection with her husband’s complicated, grinding ambition, a quality she discerned beneath his cloak of rectitude.
Highly readable… The book also features a delightful foreword by Laura Bush… ‘Narrative of a Journey from Russia to France’ is the most hair-raising section in the entire collection… It is a story of unimaginable discomfort, absent-minded servants, questionable characters threatening in desolate places, impudent officials, weary soldiers, and filthy lodgings. Above all, it is the tale of a fragile, rugged, determined woman pulling off an adventure as daunting as those of the ragged soldiers she passed.
Here’s history at its best! Louisa Catherine Adams’s shrewd eyewitness accounts document pivotal moments in the country’s formative years. Often laugh-out-loud funny, the writings of this intelligent, insightful woman also provide fascinating context for the career of John Quincy and his contemporaries.
This graceful collection of the personal papers of Louisa Catherine Adams, the only first lady to have been foreign-born, is a treasure. Broad in scope but intimate in detail, Louisa’s account of her tour through the courts of Europe and the byways of accomplishment and loss that distinguished the Adams family shines and startles with wit and a woman’s heart wanting to freely ‘breathe its sorrows.’ Henry Adams would write he knew ‘nothing’ of his grandmother’s ‘interior life.’ Fortunate readers will know much more from her bracing words that bring early America to vivid life.
- 416 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
- Foreword by Laura Bush
From this author
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