“He cannot degrade her”: Louisa Catherine Adams on Women’s Natural Equality

By Amanda A. Mathews

While Abigail Adams is often cast into the role of proto-feminist based on her famous “Remember the Ladies” letter to John Adams in March 1776, Louisa Catherine Adams also expressed strong feelings about the natural equality of women, particularly in regards to their intellectual capacity, which were grounded in her understanding of Scripture and Christianity.

In a letter to the abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Sarah Grimké in 1838, Louisa wrote:

When God breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of the creatures of his hand, that breath was an emanation of his own nature! I would modestly enquire how in the simple act of inspiring this vitality into the body of Eve, that unchanging and immutable principle, should take a different form in the spiritual existence of the two human beings, who we are told inhabited Paradise!!!

Ere these bodies received the vital inspiration, they were a mere transcript of death; and liable to corruption, but on the instant the divine inspiration was inhaled, these clods became animated in the perfection of human loveliness, so equal in mind, and in the joys of immortality, but the woman so exquisite in her beauty, that Man next to his God even then worshipped at her shrine! and we no where see an evidence of inferiority in the female; but only the sensitive tenderness of Adam, who in the excess of his love spared her from those toils to which he would not expose her beauty. . . .

The Bible repeatedly asserts, “that a virtuous Woman is above all price”; and this was the result of Solomons wisdom— and it was through the Medium of a Woman, in the emblematic purity of her innocence and loveliness, as this being above all price; that the Messiah came into the world to call Sinners to repentance, and to redeem our degenerate race from Sin and death—

Man may subvert woman for his own purposes. He cannot degrade her in the sight of God, so long as she acts up to those great duties, which her Nature and her Constitution enforce; and which enjoins the highest virtues that combine society, in the relations of daughter, Wife, and Mother: from whence originate all the great characteristics which enoble man from the Cradle to the tomb—

This topic would be a recurring one in Louisa’s writings, both in her diaries and letters, in the last twenty-years of her life, and perhaps inspired her to record her “Narrative of a Journey from Russia to France,” which she prefaced:

It may perhaps at some future day serve to recal the memory of one, who was—and show that many undertakings which appear very difficult and arduous to my Sex, are by no means so trying as imagination forever depicts them— And that energy and discretion, follow the necessity of their exertion, to protect the fancied weakness of feminine imbecility.

Louisa Catherine Adams diary