Louisa Johnson Adams


Louisa Adams

It’s unfortunate Louisa Adams is an obscure First Lady because she’s the most interesting and complicated I’ve read about so far in this project. Okay, I know each of the four had their quirks, but, through time what’s passed down can seem filtered and blurred and one-dimensional, especially concerning women. I mean 200 years is a long time! Fortunately, many historians are discovering this forgotten First Lady. First off, she first set foot on American soil in her mid-twenties. The 1st First Lady not born in America (and I’m thinking the only one.)  Born to an American father and English mother, Louisa grew up in London and Paris. Her father was a merchant who lost his fortune right before Louisa married.  Life with husband John Quincy Adams was turbulent at times and Louisa never felt the approval of Abigail and John Adams. The Adams were a tough, demanding crowd. Louisa’s early family life little prepared her for life with the Adamses. Michael O’Brien writes in Mrs. Adams in Winter that “While the Johnsons were metropolitan and worldly, wore silk, and saw church as an occasion for fashionable parade, the Adamses were rural, mistrusted the world, wore broadcloth and thought church was for urgent prayer.” But the wife became part of the husband’s family back then and Louisa was lost in the Adamses’ quest for glory. I think she was a survivor and nothing if not interesting. For instance, she was a writer. In her later years, Louisa wrote  two incomplete autobiographies, a Russian diary of the couple’s stay in St. Petersburg, a separate account of a trip she took through the battlefields  of Europe in 1815,  letters, her plays (or skits), her many poems. Many of her witty letters survive. “Narrative of a  Journey from Russia to France, 1815,” was finally published in 1903. This trip from St. Petersburg to Paris is the plot of Mrs. Adams in Winter. On her way to meet John in Paris, the journey lasted 40 days and she came upon battlefields of the Napoleonic Wars meeting many disparate and interesting characters along the way. It was an Odyssey. It reminded me of Gone with the Wind when Scarlett flees Atlanta with Melanie and her baby, except it lasts for forty days, but  the carriage was more comfortable and Louisa had a change of clothes. In fact, it was the same type of carriage Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI tried to escape France in. Her young son accompanied her during this great journey. He would be the only one to survive his parents. As with many women, the constant childbearing and loss of children took a toll on her emotionally and physically. Louisa’s tenure as First Lady in the mid1820’s was endured.. at this point in her life she was deeply unhappy. In her fifties she was proof that women grow more rebellious with age as Gloria Steinem says. The proof is in the writing she left behind where Louisa is critical of her husband and the Adamses as well as her place as a woman. She became introspective and looked into her past, noting with pride the journey she undertook in 1815 as a test of her will and courage when she believed she’d succeeded on her own. The one instance where she was dependent entirely upon herself, Louisa, and not that Adamses.


2 Responses to “Louisa Johnson Adams”

  1. This is another First Lady that has intrigued me. Her in-laws are so well-known and both she and John Quincy don’t “get much press.” At least now-a-days. I knew she made the journey from St. Petersburg although I didn’t know any details. I also didn’t know she was such a prolific writer. Good info and a great post. Thanks!

  2. Thank you, Susan! Of course, none of her writings were published during her lifetime.

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