STARRED REVIEW
April 05, 2016

Being Mrs. Adams

By Simone Zelitch
In this engaging and well-researched biography, writer and historian Louisa Thomas rescues a former first lady from near obscurity—Louisa Catherine Johnson, wife of sixth president John Quincy Adams and the only presidential spouse born outside America.
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In this engaging and well-researched biography, writer and historian Louisa Thomas rescues a former first lady from near obscurity—Louisa Catherine Johnson, wife of sixth president John Quincy Adams and the only presidential spouse born outside America.

Louisa Johnson met her future husband in London, where she was one of seven children of a patriotic American merchant and an elegant English mother. When John Quincy Adams began turning up for dinner in the fall of 1795, he was entranced by the six Johnson girls, whom he called “pretty and agreeable.” But which one was he actually courting? At a ball to celebrate her 21st birthday, much to her older sister Nancy’s dismay, it became clear that the prominent young American diplomat had chosen Louisa.

She had been educated to be married, and after leaving school at 15, Louisa focused on the ladylike pursuits of dancing, painting and embroidery. Yet John Quincy Adams did not marry a woman who, as she once put it, “only intended to play an echo.” Louisa was more adept than her husband at socializing, and she used those talents as she dutifully followed him to diplomatic postings in distant capitals from Prussia to St. Petersburg (once traveling almost 2,000 miles across Europe in winter with her young son to join her husband in Paris). But she also struggled with her role as first lady, with feelings of being an outsider and with family tragedy: Only one of her four children survived her.

Louisa is a fascinating portrait of a complex woman, her sometimes tumultuous marriage and the extraordinary era in which she lived. “She witnessed a world in transformation, and a country inventing itself,” writes Thomas, “and she played a role in that invention.”

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Louisa

Louisa

By Simone Zelitch
G.P. Putnam's Sons
ISBN 9780399146596

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