Threshold of a Century:
the Diary of Louisa Adams Park, 1800-1801

Letitia Hall


Louisa Adams Park lived in interesting times. In 1800 the United States of America was a small country struggling to establish itself on the world stage and trying to remain neutral in the war between England and France. The nation was conducting its first two-party presidential campaign and seriously testing the constitutional provisions for electing the president and vice president. New England, where Louisa lived, was trying to maintain its political importance under the new Constitution and its communities were adapting to the new society and the changing economy. Louisa lived in the midst of this change as a wife and mother, sister and daughter, and often, whether she liked it or not, as an independent woman.

Louisa's diary opens doors to the transitions occurring in American society in the first days of the nineteenth century even as it tells the intimate story of her life. Her concerns reflected America's concerns about the nature of Democracy and questions about who should lead; she echoed fears that society was discarding the traditions that safeguarded its stability. At the same time, her dedication to the ideal of an emotionally fulfilling marriage reflected society's changing expectations for marriage, and her relationships with the women in her family and her community were characteristic of the developing idea of the woman's sphere. Louisa's activities and attitudes foreshadowed the "true womanhood"1 that later in the century would make the middle-class New England housewife the model for all American women. Her story is not extraordinary, but it is fascinating.

1. Barbara Welter, "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860." American Quarterly, 18 (1966) 151-174; reprinted in Mary Beth Norton and Ruth M. Alexander, ed., Major Problems in American Women's History, 2nd ed., (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath and Company, 1996), 115-122.
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