Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Abigail Adams

In America’s early days, women had no voice in government and were not expected to know much about politics. But Abigail Adams, the wife of the second U.S. Prwsident, was ahead of her time. She was well-informed and held strong opinions about politics and government.

John Adams was a country lawyer when he married Abigail Smith in 1764. He played a key role in the struggles for independence and was often away from home. Abigail Adams raised their four children and managed the family farm, and she kept up a steady stream of letters to her husband.

When a neighbor complained because Abigail had sent a young servant to school, she wrote to John, “Merely because his face is black, is he to be denied instruction?”
And when John Adams was helping to plan the new country’s government, she wrote, “In the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.”

Abigail Adams was the first First Lady to live in the White House. But only a few rooms of the mansion were ready in 1800 when the Adamses moved in. In a letter to her daughter, Abigail revealed that she hung her family’s laundry in the unfinished East Room, later the scene of elegant receptions.

Abigail Adams is also remembered as the mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Johnny Appleseed

When Americans bite into crisp, fresh-picked apples or slices of apple pie, they should thank John Chapman. No one did more to encourage the cultivation of apple orchards during America’s frontier days. Chapman’s efforts made him a legendary folk hero and earned him the nickname “Johnny Appleseed.”

Each fall during cider-making time, Chapman collected seeds from the sweet-smelling cider presses. He carefully washed them, and dried them in the sun. Then he planted the seeds in forests and fields. For more than 40 years, beginning in the late 1700s, Chapman crisscrossed Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, tending his budding apple trees and showing people how to start their own orchards.

Dressed in tattered clothes, he cheerfully endured the hardships of pioneer life. People thought him odd, but praised his friendliness and sincereity. However, during the War of 1812, John Chapman saved the hamlet of Mansfield, Ohio, by summoning troops to defend it against a Native American attack.

Not much is known about John Chapman’s life. But as Johnny Appleseed, the sower of tiny seeds that grew into stately orchards, he holds a unique place in American frontier history.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott wrote almost 300 books, stories, and poems, but she is best known for the novel Little Women. This children’s classic is about four teenage sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March—and their family life in a New England village during the time of the American Civil War. Alcott herself was one of four sisters, and the story is largely based on her own life.

The Alcott family moved to Concord, Massachusetts, when Louisa May Alcott was eight years old. Her father, Bronson Alcott, was a teacher, but he had problems supporting his family. Among his friends were two great writers, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. They helped Alcott develop her writing ability. She started writing when she was 19, to earn money for the family.

Alcott’s first book, Flower Fables, was published in 1854. But her first success came in 1863 with Hospital Sketches, which was based on her experiences as a nurse during the Civil War. Little Women, published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, was an immediate success. Her publisher originally decided not to publish Little Women, but his children read the manuscript, loved it, and talked him into it. She later wrote several sequels about the March family, including Little Men and Jo’s Boys.