Last Month of “Women of Wall Street” Exhibit: Profile of Abigail Adams

The Museum’s groundbreaking exhibit, “Women of Wall Street,” is on view until the end of March, which is Women’s History Month.  The exhibit was conceived in January of 2009, when Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and profiles five pioneering historical figures and five of the most powerful women in finance today.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Museum will post a blog entry about each of the famous historical figures in the exhibit, beginning with Abigail Adams.

Abigail Adams is most famous for being the wife of American statesman and former President John Adams, but few people know that she was a bond trader, or in the lingo of the times, a “stock-jobber.”   Adams’ trading activities were one of the few sources of contention between the pair; John Adams, much more conservative by nature, asked his wife to invest in land.  She would point out to him that the bonds offered a significantly higher return on capital than land (24% a year versus only 2% for land).  Indeed, she ultimately earned a return of about 400% as a result of her speculative activities.

In Adams’ time, Massachusetts coverture laws were such that legally, all of her property belonged to John.  Even so, she would set aside “pin money” (small amounts given to wives to purchase luxuries and other items) and buy the bonds through her uncle.  Many women who lived through the Revolutionary War in America had to make do without their husbands, which forced them to become independent in many ways.  Even so, women’s legal rights remained limited, something that Adams famously admonished her husband to address when she asked him to “Remember the ladies” as he was helping draft laws for the newly-founded United States in 1776.

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