During the month of April, Vassar College will play host to an extraordinary series of educational programs in conjunction with a unique exhibition, My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams. From the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, a selection of the correspondence between John Adams, one of America’s Founding Fathers and the nation’s second President, and Abigail Adams, who was far ahead of her time as a perceptive political spouse and partner, will be on display at The Catherine Pelton Durrell ’25 Archives and Special Collections Library. This event marks the first time that many of these letters have left Massachusetts.
Augmenting the exhibition will be several lectures, some limited to the Vassar community and others open to the general public, which will tap the considerable expertise of both Vassar and the Massachusetts Historical Society to further illuminate the history reflected in the exhibit. In addition, My Dearest Friend will feature an important component of outreach to the greater Hudson Valley, as selected area high school history teachers and students will be seeing the exhibit and hearing from experts. A classic example of the Vassar tradition of “going to the source,” My Dearest Friend offers a matchless window on a critical period in American history, and on a marriage of two hearts and minds that resonates as strongly today as it did then.
These programs are made possible with support from the Jane W. Nuhn Charitable Trust, John and Julia Blodgett Curtis ’62, Dola Davis Stemberg ’74, Time Warner, Inc., and the Office of the Dean of the Faculty.
As a pivotal player in the American Revolution and the early republic, John Adams had a front-row seat at critical moments in the creation of the United States. Separated more often than they were together, John and Abigail shared their lives through letters that each addressed to “My Dearest Friend,” debating ideas and commenting on current events while attending to the concerns of raising their children (including a future president.) These letters span nearly forty years during their lives together and form the most significant correspondence - and reveal one of the most intriguing partnerships - in our nation’s history.
This unprecedented exhibition represents the first time that most of these letters have left the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It will include some of the most famous correspondence in American history, such as Abigail Adams’s admonition to husband John to “Remember the Ladies” as he worked on the “Declaration of Independency,” in a letter dated March 31, 1776; his description for her of the vote for independence in Philadelphia three months later; and John’s November 2, 1800 letter to her from the President’s House, the first letter written from the White House, illustrated by James Hoban’s original floor plan of the executive mansion.
These and other letters from the Collection formed the basis for David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book John Adams, which in turn is the basis for the current HBO miniseries, John Adams, produced by Tom Hanks P’05.
More information about the exhibit
David McCullough is widely acclaimed as the “master of narrative history.” A two-time winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, Mr. McCullough recently received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian award. Among his best-selling works are The Path Between the Seas, about the creation of the Panama Canal; Truman, a much-heralded biography of our 33rd President; 1776, a new look at the birth of America; and John Adams, a biography of the nation’s second President that forms the basis for the current HBO miniseries of the same name. Mr. McCullough is also famed for his skills as a narrator, notably of the PBS series The Civil War and the Oscar-nominated film Seabiscuit. Vassar parent Tom Hanks P’05, who served as co-executive producer for the John Adams series, has called Mr. McCullough “a national treasure.” Mr. McCullough is married to Rosalee Barnes McCullough, Vassar Class of 1955.
Sponsored by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty and the Office of Regional Programs, this lecture coincides with the exhibition My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams from the Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Tickets are required for admission, and are limited to two per person. They may be obtained at Campus Activities as of Monday, March 31. Limited tickets are available to the public - please reserve in advance by calling the Office of Campus Activities at (845) 437-5370. Inquiries about the program should be made to Chris Galli at (845) 437-5297.
Made possible with support from John and Julia Blodgett Curtis ’62, the lecture is organized in conjunction with the exhibition, My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams.
Jim Taylor earned his doctorate in early American history from the University of Tennessee, and taught American history for many years at the University of South Carolina. For the past six years, he has served as editor in chief of the Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston; for the past two, he has had the additional responsibility of director of publications for the Society. The Adams Papers project, with a full-time staff of six documentary editors, now produces a volume a year, and has published forty-two volumes to date. Mr. Taylor has overseen a project to digitize the modern edition of Adams Papers, and was co-editor of the book My Dearest Friend, a new selection of letters between Abigail and John Adams that inspired the current exhibition at Vassar as well as a corresponding exhibit at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Mr. Taylor is also currently chair of the Founding Fathers Papers editors.