We Heard You, Abigail Adams: It’s Time to Remember the Ladies

The historical record is dominated by men. Since antiquity and including the almost 250-year history of the United States, the role of women in society, military service, diplomacy, rights, arts, sciences, business, sports, and more has largely been relegated to a minor position. Not because women weren’t there, weren’t contributing, or weren’t effecting change, but because they were just…ignored. Consider this:

  • According to a recent women’s history research summit, only 24% of history-makers taught in K-12 classrooms are women, and only 15 women are taught in 10 states or more.
  • The National Monument Audit, produced by Monument Lab in partnership with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, found that only 3 of the 50 people most frequently honored with public memorials are female. 
  • Wanting to research women on your own? Good luck. Just under 1 in 5 biographical entries on English-language Wikipedia focuses on women.

Many thanks to Allison Gilbert, writing for CNN, for compiling these dismal figures. They illuminate why, as the U.S. Semiquincentennial hovers just on the horizon in 2026, the National Bell Festival is planning to mark the occasion by celebrating 250 years of trailblazing American women with the casting of a new grand bell.

“Remember the Ladies”

The bell was inspired by a letter Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John Adams, on March 31, 1776 – nearly 150 years before Congress voted to pass the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Her words are as follows:

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

Well said, Abigail. Women have been true visionaries and changemakers across the arc of our nation’s history, but they don’t always get a seat at the table, or the recognition, they deserve. Sometimes, they are simply written out of the historical record.

The U.S. Semiquincentennial Bell will take one small step in a better direction by featuring one woman cast in bronze from each decade since American Independence. These women will continue to ring out and inspire for the next 250 years. They won’t be silenced.

Cover image: Detail of an oil-on-canvas portrait of Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams and mother of President John Quincy Adams, by Gilbert Stuart circa 1800. Courtesy: National Gallery of Art.