Subscribe to Christianity Today
Louisa Catherine: The Other Mrs. Adams
Margery M. Heffron
Yale University Press, 2014
432 pp., $40.00
A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams
Louisa Catherine Adams
Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2014
416 pp., $35.00
Daniel Walker Howe
The Other Mrs. Adams
Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams has long been an unjustly overlooked First Lady. Married to John Quincy Adams in 1797, she served a long and substantial apprenticeship for her role as First Lady, beginning with her years as the wife of the U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary at the royal courts of Prussia (1797 to 1801), Tsarist Russia (1809-15), and Great Britain (1815-17). For the eight years of James Monroe's presidency (1817-25) she was the wife of the secretary of state, in which capacity she served as an almost de facto First Lady, recognized as the leader of Washington society, setting precedents controversial at the time for entertaining foreign dignitaries and congressional leaders, hosting balls with hundreds of guests, and winning her rivalry with the wives of other cabinet secretaries. The climax of this role occurred on January 8, 1824, when the Adamses gave a giant ball for a thousand guests in their F Street mansion to honor the ninth anniversary of Andrew Jackson's victory at the Battle of New Orleans. (John Quincy had hoped this gesture might encourage Jackson to become his running mate in the election that fall, but of course Jackson intended to run for president himself.) Washingtonians remembered the ball for many decades afterward. In retrospect, Louisa Catherine Adams remains one of the major First Ladies of the 19th century, comparable to Dolley Madison.
Two new books from Yale and Harvard presses should remedy the neglect of Louisa Catherine Adams, even though—unfortunately—neither one deals directly with her years in the White House. Margery Heffron's biography, Louisa Catherine, was tragically left truncated when the author died in December 2011, just at the point when her narrative would have taken up John Quincy Adams' election as president. LCA herself wrote neither a diary during her husband's presidency nor a memoir about it later, so there is nothing from this period in the volume of her writings edited by ...