Adams Leaves Legacy of Love

And now it’s online—America’s Founding Families go public with private lives

Web surfers will soon get an up-close-and-personal view of Adams House life.

The life of John Adams, Class of 1755, and his family, that is.

A Harvard-backed Web site will publish the love letters that Adams and his wife, Abigail, exchanged over the course of their 54-year marriage. The charmingly mistake-filled early correspondence of John Quincy Adams, Class of 1787, will be available for free as well.

The Founding Families project, run by the Massachusetts Historical Society in conjunction with the Harvard University Press (HUP), is working to make 45 volumes of documents available on the society’s Web site by June 2008.

Adams was the second U.S. president—and the first of seven with a Harvard College diploma. He graduated 14th in a class of 24—though class rank at the time was determined by a student’s “dignity of birth” rather than his academic performance, according to an official University history.

His son, John Quincy, was the sixth U.S. president. Their descendants would go on to hold a series of legislative and ambassadorial posts, and they would bestow the family name on one of Harvard’s 12 undergraduate Houses.

The journal of John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts and the namesake of a House in his own right, will also be digitized as part of the effort.

The site will also digitize papers of Winthrop’s family, which would continue to influence Massachusetts politics for centuries to come. (Sen. John F. Kerry is a descendant.)

The project is funded by a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a matching amount from the historical society, and additional support from the HUP, according to the society’s senior associate editor, Ondine E. LeBlanc.

This is the first time the historical society has embarked on such a large-scale digitization project, and the benefits, LeBlanc said, will be “huge.”

The project aims to allow a broader group to access the venerable Massachusetts families’ effects.

“Once we’re done with this, you won’t have to go any farther than your computer,” LeBlanc said. “Hopefully, a lot of high school teachers will now be using these documents in their classes.”

The digitization is being carried out by CodeMantra, a company based in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., though the actual typing will be done in Chennai, India.

Outsourcing has become standard for firms who specialize in digitization, LeBlanc said.

“At this point, you would be very hard put to find a company that did this work in this country,” she said.

—Staff writer Alex McLeese can be reached at amcleese@fas.harvard.edu.