Louisa Catherine, The Other Mrs. Adams. By Margery M. Heffron, edited by David L. Michelmore. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014. 416 pp.
Louisa Catherine Adams is most frequently identified as the wife of John Quincy Adams, as a woman who married into an influential family and helped her husband to realize his political ambitions. Less often, she is remembered for her intelligence and daring, for being a woman whose letters and diaries were incisive social and political commentaries and whose journey from St. Petersburg to Paris in the winter of 1815, accompanied only by her young son and two servants, was nothing short of extraordinary. In this biography, Margery M. Heffron--who passed away before its publication--and David L. Michelmore--who completed the volume--first acknowledge those familiar conceptions of the other Mrs. Adams and then proceed to offer a much more complex and challenging profile of the woman they describe as "the emotional linchpin of the Adams dynasty" (p. 6).
The biography is organized chronologically, first providing biographical accounts of Adams's parents, Joshua Johnson and Catherine Young Nuth; then describing Adams's child- and young adulthood; and then focusing on her years as a wife and mother prior to her husband's presidency. Throughout, the author and the editor richly contextualize Adams's life, weaving together social, cultural, and intellectual history. The author and editor, while clearly fascinated by Louisa Catherine Adams, acknowledge and analyze her character flaws as well as her strengths. And while sustaining a strong narrative focus on Adams, they profile her husband and sons, her sisters and in-laws, and pivotal actors in her husband's career. The reader is introduced to Abigail Adams as a mother-in-law and to Queen Louise of Prussia as a mentor to the American minister's new bride, among innumerable other historical figures. Relationships, as sources of support and of tension, are the centerpiece of this book.
Throughout the volume, primary sources are foregrounded and challenged. Louisa Catherine and John Quincy Adams were diarists and prolific letter writers, and Heffron and Michelmore use these documents to reveal the personalities and perceptions of both Adamses. For example, they contrast Louisa Catherine Adams's writings in the moment--her letters and diaries--with existent fragments of her two memoirs, which were...