Meet The Real Housewives of the Founding Fathers

Meet The Real Housewives of

The Founding Fathers

The year was 1776. 56 men were gathering to sign The Declaration of Independence and they were the talk of the country. They had done it, these impressive men, all by themselvesAt least, so we thought.

It has been slowly revealed through historical excavation and letter reading, that many of the signers’ wives were indeed very involved in their success. Many were charged with keeping the family home and maintaining the finances while the men were away for months, even years at a time negotiating with England or organizing the conception of the state. Others wrote speeches, and kept accounts of their husbands’ endeavours for future historians.

Below we have spotlighted some of the most inspirational of the ‘Founders wives’ who endured much adversity in order to prop their husbands up in times of great strife and statesmanship. With agency, purpose and indomitable will, these women helped shape the state as we know it today and deserve more than a mere mention this holiday. 

Abigail Adams. Courtesy of National First Ladies' Library
Abigail Adams
You’ve heard a lot about me, but it’s only true when it comes from my letters.

The wife of John Adams, who married beneath her, was famous for indignation in the face of a lot of heat from her husband’s foes.

John Quincy, her estimable son wrote of his mother at this time in awe, “my mother, with her infant children, dwelt, liable every hour of the day and the night, to be butchered in cold blood.”

During the six years separated from her husband because of his political obligations in London, Abigail kept her house open for the homeless and the sick, and nursed many back to health. When finally the separation was too much, she journeyed to London to reunite with her husband and son John Quincy, before returning to the U.S and becoming the first woman to live in the White House.

Martha Jefferson. Courtesy of National First Ladies' Library
Martha Jefferson
People may think they have me figured out, but I am always the wild card.

Thomas Jefferson’s wife was for many years thought of as the ill, weak woman at the former president’s side. Upon closer examination, it was revealed she was integral to the running of their business, tobacco farming, and was an enchanting musical performer.

While her husband was knee-deep in the revolution, Martha raised funds for the State’s Militia as the Governor of Virginia’s wife, before becoming very ill following the birth of her final child. Her memory now lives in the shadow of the woman with whom her husband enjoyed a long affair after her death: her half sister Sally Hemings.

Betsy Hamilton. Courtesy of the Smithsonian magazine
Elizabeth (Betsy) Schyler Hamilton
I’m an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, and a Broadway Show.

Alexander Hamilton’s better half has received national acclaim because of the crucial part she plays in the Broadway hit Hamilton, which does well to highlight the very important role she held in her husband’s life and career.  

Betsy, a mother of eight, lived and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure her children were taken care of and that her husband prevailed in all of his political endeavours. Helping him with discourse and speech-writing, Betsy was perhaps one of the most politically involved housewives of the day and Alexander would owe much of his success to the woman of the house, who kept the financial affairs (or lack thereof) in frugal order.

When an illicit affair was discovered between Alexander and Maria Reynolds, Betsy was furious, but not for her husband’s deception, rather for the sneaky way it was revealed and the ramifications it might have on his career. She publicly defended her husband’s actions and scolded those who spread the word throughout the public. Unceasingly devoted to him, even in the face of this embarrassing scandal – she endeavoured to keep the family affairs in order amidst the chaos rattling outside the doors of their Manhattan home.

When Alexander was killed by Aaron Burr in 1804, Betsy was left with little money and a houseful of devastated children, one of whom had a nervous breakdown in the wake of her father’s death. Having fought with creditors to keep their house, The Grange, Betsy threw herself into charitable work and founded New York’s first ever private orphanage, The Orphan Asylum, in 1806. She lived to the age of 97, an incredible feat for someone during a period when life expectancy hovered around 40, who had given birth to eight children. In true housewife fashion, she and Martha Jefferson were the best of friends.

Deborah Read
When it comes to my family, I’m the judge and jury.

The eponymous Benjamin Franklin sits full-faced and brazen on the $100 now – and deserves nothing less, but what of his lady? Deborah Read was the stalwart at home while Ben was off negotiating the terms of independence in England. Away for months at a time, it was left to Deborah to maintain the house and stave off Franklin naysayers.

Deborah Read Courtesy of The Federalist

There were a lot of these, many of whom promised violence to the Franklin household, over which Deborah presided alone.

When the English began enforcing the Stamp Tax, many at home were aggrieved by Franklin’s lack of action against it. He, of course could do little about it, but nonetheless, those at home began to take arms and threatened to attack his home. Deborah, alone with the children in the house, was vulnerable to attack. She in turn gathered troops and armed them to defend the Franklin home.

In her devotion to Ben, she also took in and reared his illegitimate son, having lost one of her own children in infancy.

Amy Corcoran

Head of Content at SWAAY: Amy is an Irish writer, avid foodie and feminist with an insatiable appetite for novels and empowering women's writing. She has enjoyed calling Dublin, Paris and now New York her home.

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