First Ladies of the Republic

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 07 May 2018

Member Reviews

What do you think of when you hear the phrase American political history?  Who are the people you think of? I’m guessing that you think of; the founding fathers, followed by a succession of white, male, presidents. This book seeks to rectify this by looking at the women who shaped Washington, America, and the world.  It looks at the wives of the first presidents; Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison. 

It outlines; their lives, how they met their husbands, their role within their partners' journey to power,  their feelings towards their role of first lady,  their relationships with each other and the ways that they shaped Washington. 

The works only flaw lies in its structure.  At times, it gets repetitive.  Each first lady gets her own section, outlining her biography. However,  since many presidents served in the administration of their predecessor,  many of their stories overlap and repeat.  With the end of one narrative being repeated in the middle of the next narrative. For example, you are told the story of Martha Washington, which was a really interesting read, but then part of the narrative was retold in the story of Abagail Adams when John Adams became Washington's vice president. This narrative flaw  had a negative impact on the readability of the work.  But, that said,  I am really glad that I read this book. 

This book is a useful addition to a cannon of  historical literature whose main aim is to celebrate Womens' contribution to the world.  In addition,  it is a valuable contribution to the Political history of the USA. I recommend it to history geeks like myself.
Was this review helpful?
Jeanne E. Abrams’ First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and the Creation of an Iconic American Role is a surprisingly accessible look into the lives of the three women who did much to define the still-yet-to-be-fully-definable role of the President’s spouse in the early years of the United States. I mean, these women weren’t elected, autonomous, or even sometimes willing, but they were placed in a position in which they received just as much criticism and revilement as their husbands and therefore, had to be quick to invent a new role that would stay with the country through the ages.
To be honest, it was a position of government (is it a position of government? Tangibly, I suppose) that I had previously never given much thought to. Alas, having grown up in the British school system, my education has been solely focussed on the UK’s affairs and more importantly, its victory. Maybe, with the defeats in the War of Independence and again, in the War of 1812, the narcissistic British government has rather glossed over that period of history.
And, I honestly hadn’t even heard of these women. Martha Washington, yes, but only as an extension of her Presidential husband. But that does not mean that I was not enraptured by their stories.
That is because, First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and the Creation of an Iconic American Role is a fascinating look into how elite, white women were sometimes able to influence and hold sway over their husbands, in order to enact their own political views in a time period in which votes for women were inconceivable. 
It is the idea of them turning the domestic and social realms in which they were relegated to, into something that was integral to the successes of their husbands’ Presidencies. It is a small showing of political autonomy but, two hundreds years or thereabouts before women were given any sort of suffrage, it is pretty damn remarkable. 
Like, a big screw-you-I’m-taking-this-and-running-with-it to the patriarchal government of the time.
Was this review helpful?
This book is a very detailed account of the lives, backgrounds, and political issues concerning the wives of our first few presidents. I perceive it to be historically accurate and fair. However, I found it to be a difficult read, and in fact, did not finish reading after I got about a third of the way through. It's more of an academic book for the purpose of research and study, not for recreational reading. It was far too wordy for my taste.
Was this review helpful?
This was such an interesting read. I didn't know much about the First Ladies, so I learnt a great deal from the book. It is very detailed and full of information, yet easy to read with a light enough writing style and illustrations. So don't let the size of the book scare you. It's all worth it!
Was this review helpful?
The book is best summed up in this way: Martha didn't want to be First Lady, Abigail was mad at everyone who didn't like her husband, and Dolley liked to party.

I wanted to like this one. I was stoked when I saw it on NetGalley, because I am just as interested in the First Ladies as I am in reading a biography of every president. Unfortunately this one fell short for me and was disappointing. The main issue I have is that it became so repetitive once we moved into the sections about Abigail and Dolley. This was especially problematic because Abigail was given the most coverage. Each woman was not showcased on her own, and their stories did entwine throughout but there is a point when enough is enough. I felt like we are constantly being told about Dolley being social. We get it, she was social. SHE WAS SOCIAL.

Now, I did only read an ARC and not the final copy. I know the book has been published now, but perhaps in a future edition the repetitiveness can be curbed so we can have a clear picture of the women in their time. On a positive note, the use of primary sources was fantastic and helped to really flesh out the women to help us understand how they fit into their roles and supported their husband and his politics.
Was this review helpful?
4 inspiring stars to First Ladies of the Republic! ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

This was another recommendation from my friend, Marialyce! Thanks for a great read! 

Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison, the United States’ first three First Ladies, were responsible for shaping the important role, especially as the presidency itself in a young nation was also in its infancy stage. 

There was a fine line walked for these women in supporting their husbands and serving as their best confidantes, while also bringing respect to their new roles, and in what they believed to be a stark contrast to the royal values the US from which the US was separating. 

What I loved most about this book was that it was not just about being “First Lady.” It was also about defining new roles for women in a new America. Overall, this was a fascinating read for me, and I highly recommend it for fans of history, especially early US history. 

Thank you to Jeanne Abrams, NYU Press, and Netgalley for the ARC. First Ladies of the Republic is available now! 

For this and other reviews, please visit my shiny new blog
Was this review helpful?
Reading about our wonderful first ladies in our new nation was a wonderful insight into the bravery, loyalty, and courage these ladies possessed. From Martha Washington, to Abigail Adams, to Dolley Madison, these women infused their knowledge, their dignity, and their willingness to see that this new nation started off with their best foot forward. It was amazing to read about even though they lacked the ability to vote, they were ladies who were quite instrumental in their husbands' lives as well as the decisions they made.

There were some things that I learned about these ladies, things that made me proud and gave me a sense of what service to one's country really meant. These women gave up a lot to stand by their husband often having to do their best in order to foster relationships with foreign countries, diplomats, and people from opposing parties, who thought of our nation as a babe in arms and perhaps felt that they could take advantage o this fledgling country. They were wise, accomplished, and showed a type of gentility that laid the groundwork for the position of First Lady. They gave to the position honor and oftentimes, they became the person sought out in not only social settings but also one to get the President's ear. Each of their husbands seemed to value them not only as a wife but also as a confidant seeking their wise counsel on how to best chart a course for our new nation.

To these ladies, America owes a debt of gratitude. They all gave up quite a bit to champion both their husbands and the new nation that they all dearly loved. 

Thank you to Jeanne E. Abrams, NYU Press, and NetGalley for providing this reader with a well written, informative novel.
Was this review helpful?
This is a detailed history of the lives of three of the first ladies of the USA. That is Martha Washington, Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison. When I say detailed I mean it. This was a really in depth look at the lives of these women and how they shaped the position of the First lady.

It was good to see that even back wetthen they still found a way of been heard and seen. They were not "flower girls" you know, who stood behind the woman man of the hour and looked pretty. 

I learnt a lot about history (mostly about politics) which I was not counting on but was a welcome surprise. Something else that I learnt from this book was that I have a lot of patience. Honestly this book was dull. It went on and on it felt a thousand pages long. I can't even remember the number of times I checked to see if I was almost done. 

As I said this book was very detailed and it had so much information to go through. I don't even know who would want to read this page by page cover to cover. It could be helpful if you are doing research on the topic or if you are a serious history nerd but still...
Was this review helpful?
I won't lie, this book sat on my Kindle for months before I read it because I was worried I wouldn't like it. Don't get me wrong, I love the Revolutionary War, but I wasn't sure how dry the book would be or whether I would be in the right headspace for it. I was so wrong! I thought that it was a relatively quick read for the subject matter, and it was very interesting. You don't see a lot of books talking about women during this time period, so it was refreshing to hear a new take on them.
Was this review helpful?
What an interesting book - well-written and informative.  Far too often the role women have played in history and the arts has been downplayed or ignored altogether. I enjoyed this look into the lives, challenges and successes of these formidable women.
My thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
As a history major that focused on post-civil war US history, I found this book super interesting and educational.
Was this review helpful?
I began reading about the First Ladies while designing my original quilt Remember the Ladies. I have read many biographies and general books on these amazing women. 

The wives of our presidents are not elected. They have no job description. Some come to the White House unwillingly, although some did push their spouse into office. They face the deepest public scrutiny and share with their husbands both fame and criticism.

The first First Ladies had the hardest (unpaid) job: everything about the office of the presidency had to be invented. And a lot of it fell on the ladies, for they handled the social networking. If the president and his lady appeared to ape European courtly traditions they were accused of being monarchists and anti-Democratic. But we could not appear to be backwoods rubes to the foreign ambassadors, either. 

First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and the Creation of an Iconic American Role by Jeanne E. Abrams shows how these women responded to the challenge of creating a Democratic social style for the presidency. 

Martha and George Washington were revered figures when George became the first president. Don't think they were exempt from criticism! The political in-fighting and party politics started up right away. Like many presidential couples, the Washington's personalities balanced each other. George could be stiff, but Martha was beloved by everyone, America's sweetheart-- "the mother of our country." 

As the wife of the first Vice President, Abigail Adams became very close to Martha. When John Adams became president, Abigail followed Martha's pared-down, understated formality. Abigail was a very different personality, of the highest intelligence and not afraid to speak her mind. She was an important sounding board for John. Frail health plagued her and when her health required her to retire to the Adams home in Quincy, John sorely missed her counsel.

Thomas Jefferson's wife had tragically died during the war after she fled from their plantation shortly after giving birth. His daughter Patsy sometimes played hostess. Sometimes his Secretary of State's wife Dolley Madison stepped in. Jefferson downplayed his elegant and sophisticated taste with a forceful display of anti-elitism, welcoming guests in bedroom slippers. 

With the intellectual James Madison's election, his younger wife Dolley Madison took the capital by storm. A brilliant extrovert with a high social IQ, she notched the style up a few ratchets. Her 'squeezes' included all of Washington, bringing together political enemies, men and women. Dolley had high style, refined and dignified but with real bling. Well, she wore pearls instead of diamonds, so we give her that. When Dolley died her funeral rivaled that of George Washington's!

Each woman advanced the role of First Lady, including politically for their influence on the president, their ability to tweak the granting of political office, and by promoting causes. All three valued the traditional role of women but also understood that it was women who determined social manners.

This book is a nice introduction to these ladies and their influence. 

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
Was this review helpful?
This was an interesting read on the way the three first First Ladies had to create the role of First Lady and also how revolutionary-era women may have wielded influence even though they had limited to no power. 

I think it’s very good for a high level reading that will then give you some other paths to further reading. There’s a great level of details on some areas and it’s laid out well and enjoyable to read! I found some of the early sections to be very high on repetition but that smoothed our as the book went along. 

Overall, it didn’t have the depth that I would have liked but for a high level overview of Martha Washington, Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison particularly during their years as First Lady, it’s a good place to start!

I received an advance copy of this on NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
As I used to be a history major, I am always curious to learn about aspects of history I didn't study in class. American history, for the most part, fall into this category. I'm quite interested in gender studies as well as the 18th and 19th centuries, which is why First Ladies of the Republic intrigued me. 

It followed Martha Washington, Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison, focusing on how these three women had to follow their husbands, who were elected presidents, and had to assume a complex job, which hadn't been invented yet. While explaining who they were, as well as the political context during their husbands' presidency, First Ladies of the Republic shows how these women responded to the challenge of creating the role of the first lady, walking a thin line between what they knew of the European queens and what the American society wanted in their leaders. In their different ways, these three women advanced the role of First Lady, as well as had some influence on the president, defended a few causes, organised important social events and used their position to help their family gaining positions of power.

First Ladies is an in-depth and insightful book that made me learn a lot more on the beginning of the American Republic, the personalities of the first three first ladies and how they shaped this role, and women's roles at that time, whether it was among society or their family. It was a bit dry at times and harder to follow than previous history books I have read, it might me due in part to the writing, or the amount of information I had to digest with every page. In any case, it was quite a good history book!
Was this review helpful?
An interesting topic and an interesting book! Well done!
Was this review helpful?
The three first First Ladies roles' in the new United States of America are too often overlooked.  This book discusses their fashion, hospitality, and their own political opinions and efforts in support of family, among other things.  One part that I found particularly interesting was the discussion of diseases, such as smallpox, typhoid, and yellow fever.  I had known that Abigail Adams had died at an old age, but hadn't known that she died of typhoid.  If not for yellow fever making her a widow, Dolley Todd would never have become Dolley Madison.  I think that my older students would benefit from reading this book to get a broader understanding of that era and the first three Presidents.
Was this review helpful?
Well written, insightful, and an interesting approach to yet another in a long line of books about the founding fathers' wives. I was pleasantly surprised at the information I learned in this book. Abrams successfully explained how Washington, Adams, and Madison shaped an important, albeit not elected, figurehead role at a time when there was no reference for them to follow in the world. I would recommend this to readers with numerous interests because the book seems to have something that could interest any reader. This book could also be used as an exploratory into how the role of first lady began and was shaped into what the American people expect of the woman filling the role in today's society.
Was this review helpful?
So informative and fascinating. Well written - and so much I didn't know and was grateful to learn.
Was this review helpful?
First Ladies of the Republic by Jeanne E. Abrams is an in-depth look at the first three First Ladies. Martha Washington, Abagail Adams and Dolly Madison each left their mark on the office of the First Lady. They each walked a fine line between what they knew of the regal queens of Europe, especially Great Britain and what they knew the colonist wanted in their leaders. They were inventing the office as they lived it. This was not an easy task. One would have thought that most colonists wanted nothing to do with the lifestyle of the European monarchs. And yet this was what they knew. So, for these first three First Ladies to define the office was no small task. 
The book reads like a history textbook a lot of the time. And the author is repetitive in descriptions and historical facts. At times it seemed she was lost in the history and had to bring herself back to the task of writing about Martha, Abagail and Dolly. The reader was left wondering just what the subject was. 
The book is extensively researched. Abrams used the ladies own word in letters written to each other and to friends and relatives to tell their story.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read and left me with know much more about these three groundbreaking women.
I received a free copy of the book from NetGalley and NYU Press in exchange for my honest review. Thank you.

NYU Press
Pub Date 03/06/18
Was this review helpful?
Really interesting! I probably wouldn't go back and reread it again but it was a fascinating read
Was this review helpful?