cover image A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams

A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams

Edited by Margaret A. Hogan and C. James Taylor. Harvard Univ./Belknap, $35 (402p) ISBN 978-0-674-04801-0

These selected writings from the wife of sixth U.S. president, John Quincy Adams, provide insight into an oft-overlooked period of early American history as the then first lady chronicles her life alongside her husband. Much of the collection is excerpted from diary entries, memoirs, or various autobiographies begun by Louisa, and though there are no records of her writings during her husband’s presidency, she wrote extensively on the time she spent as the wife of a U.S. foreign minister in Berlin and St. Petersburg during the early 1800s. This collection does not entertain as much as shed light on the issues and concerns of a female public figure in the 1800s. Readers might find Louisa’s intense chronicling of her moments of sickness repetitive, but there are noteworthy moments, her depictions of President Thomas Jefferson as “the ruling Demagogue of the [day]” and his Vice President James Madison, “a very small man in his person, with a very large head,” for instance, add a refreshing and personal shading to their history. While the humanity found within these pages sparks empathy—she often worries over her own attractiveness or her place in American politics—much of the collection simply drags on without much purpose. (Mar.)