Henry and Clover Adams: A Fresh Start

Henry Adams Harvard Graduation Picture

Clover met Henry Adams while he was assisting his father in his duties as an ambassador to England. They were married in 1872, “joining Hooper wealth to Adams political renown. In the close quarters of Boston Brahmin society, where they had both grown up, they were a likely—if not inevitable—match.” Boston in the mid-19th Century was a thriving, forward-looking American city. “The city turned with the energies of abolitionist politics, Unitarian reform, and Transcendentalist individualism. There had been a “flowering”… of creative genius.

Figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Russell Lowell, Branson Alcott, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow won enduring fame to be sure, but numerous other Boston writers and reformers, preachers and scientists, including Elizabeth Palmer, Lydia Maria Child, Theodore Parker, James Freeman Clarke, Dorothea Dix, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Asa Gray, and Lois Aggasiz, were widely influential in their day.

The Sturgis sisters were part of this same intellectual milieu, and were close friends with Margaret Fuller, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Elizabeth Cary Aggasiz. When the Adamses returned from a yearlong honeymoon in Europe and Egypt, Henry took up a professorship at Harvard teaching history and instituting the first doctoral program in history at Harvard. After a few years he was asked to edit he papers of Albert Gallatin, the Secretary of the Treasury under Thomas Jefferson and founder of New York University. While in his classes Henry was a severe critic of the politics of his great-grandfather John Adams and of his grandfather John Quincy Adams, he was a great admirer of Gallatin and the presidents he served, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, so Henry was eager to not only edit Gallatin’s papers but determined to write a biography at the same time. Henry and Clover made the decision to move to Washington, D.C. to take advantage of the proximity to the National Archives and for a break from the past.

“What drew Clover and Henry to Washington was its growing cosmopolitanism, a combination of politics and culture unlike any other city in the country. Henry declared Washington “the only place in America where life has variety.” Politicians from every region gathered during the congressional term, and foreign diplomats, writers, scientists, and artists played their part in this diverse and ever-changing crosscurrent of people.”

“As Clover wrote to her father, life in Washington promised “new possibilities for us.”