J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, May 02, 2022

The Once and Future Abigail Adams Statues

Thanks to an alert from Boston 1775 friend Patrick Flaherty, I started following a story out of Quincy about the city’s statue of Abigail Adams.

As shown here, it’s actually a statue of Abigail and her second child, John Quincy Adams, about 1777. It was created by the late Lloyd Lillie and installed near the Church of the Presidents in 1997. It faced a matching statue of John Adams across the street, symbolizing the years the couple spent apart.

About ten years ago, Quincy mayor Thomas Koch and nonprofits aligned with him set about refurbishing that area, which is also near city hall. New statues of John Adams and John Hancock by Sergei Eylanbekov now stand at entrances of the resulting park, called the Hancock-Adams Common.

In 2013 the mayor stated that the statue of Abigail and John Quincy Adams would not be removed, but as work progressed it was, and it remains in storage.

The big issue with restoring that sculpture appears to be that the new figures of Hancock and John Adams are on a larger scale, and elevated. The old statue of Adams’s wife and child wouldn’t make a good match with them.

There was a plan to put the older Adams statues in Merrymount Park, which the Adams family once owned and donated to the city. That’s the city’s largest and most visited park, but it’s not at the city center, and the size means individual monuments can be lost in it. (In fact, there was a marker with a bas-relief honoring the two President Adamses, and I can’t tell if it’s still there.) Another idea is moving the Lillie statues into Adams National Historical Park, which makes sense if Congress grants the park enough resources to install and maintain them.

The idea of naming a new performance arts center after Abgail Adams and her daughter-in-law, Louisa Catherine Adams, has also been floating around. Originally that venue was to abut the Hancock-Adams Common, but now it’s been moved down the street.

In March some Quincy residents rallied to bring a sculpture of Abigail Adams back to the city center. That prompted local press and a Boston Globe editorial in April. Notably, this attention highlighted Adams as a politically minded woman, not primarily (as the earlier statue showed her) a wife and mother. 

A couple of weeks later, Mayor Koch announced that the city (or its nonprofit partner) was commissioning a new statue of Abigail Adams from Eylanbekov, in size and style fitting with those already there. (The Boston Globe quoted one Abigail advocate as favoring a more “approachable” figure, “not being as high up on a pedestal”—though others might interpret putting her at ground level as lowering her status.)

Meanwhile, the city is also planning statues of the adult John Quincy Adams and his wife, Louisa. Plus there was an older stone statue of John Adams down the street. And what about John Hancock’s wife Dorothy? Josiah Quincy, Jr., and the other Quincys? Christopher Seider? They all came from that area.

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