Girls in the eighteenth century were expected to learn household chores and the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. The girls in the Smith family of Braintree Massachusetts, however, gained more knowledge than many of their friends. While they learned to sew and cook from their mother, they also had access to their father’s impressive library. Abigail, nicknamed Nabby, was especially eager to spend her spare time reading authors such as Shakespeare. Though her mother thought her daughter was wasting time on topics women did not need to know, Abigail’s father encouraged his daughter’s curiosity. He taught her not only to read literature and history, but also to ask questions about what she read.
In addition to reading, Abigail also spent hours writing. She learned to write by copying sentences in a notebook. Writing was one way that young girls at the time could communicate privately with friends, and Abigail took full advantage of the opportunity. She and her friends shared their everyday experiences and the crushes they had on boys as they wrote by candlelight. Abigail even practiced writing some letters in basic French, but did not learn Latin as many eighteenth century boys did.
Abigail’s curiosity made her unwilling to accept things simply because she was told they were true. She became skilled at debating various topics with her family—a skill she would later use in conversations with her husband John Adams about America’s relationship with Britain. One friend said to her during a debate, “Nabby, you will either make a very bad, or a very good woman.” As it turned out, Abigail’s skills made her the perfect partner for the man who would take a major role in starting the American Revolution.