Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Adams, Hannah

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ADAMS, Hannah, author, b. in Medfield, Mass., in 1755; d. in Brookline, 15 Nov., 1832. She was the first woman in America who made literature a profession. Showing at an early age a fondness for study, she acquired a fair knowledge of Greek and Latin from divinity students boarding with her father, who was himself a man of literary tastes. He became bankrupt when she was in her seventeenth year, and she and her brothers and sisters were obliged to provide for themselves. During the war of the revolution she supported herself by making lace, and afterward by teaching. She was a woman of varied learning and indomitable perseverance. Her principal work was a “View of Religious Opinions” (1784), in which she gave a comprehensive survey of the various religions of the world. It was divided into: 1. An Alphabetical Compendium of the Denominations among Christians; 2. A Brief Account of Paganism, Mohammedanism, Judaism, and Deism; 3. An Account of the Different Religions of the World. The work passed through several editions, and was reprinted in England. In the fourth edition she changed the title to “Dictionary of Religions.” She wrote also a “History of New England” (1799) and “Evidences of Christianity” (1801). Her writings brought her little pecuniary profit, yet they secured her many friends, among them the Abbé Grégoire, with whom she carried on an extensive correspondence, and also received his aid in preparing her “History of the Jews” (1812). In 1814 she published a “Controversy with Dr. Morse,” and in 1826 “Letters on the Gospels.” She was simple in her manners and of rare modesty. A voyage from Boston to Nahant, about ten miles, was her only journey by water, and a trip to Chelmsford her farthest by land. During the closing years of her life she enjoyed an annuity provided by friends in Boston, and at her death was buried in Mount Auburn, the first person whose body was placed in that cemetery. Her autobiography, edited with additions by Mrs. Hannah F. Lee, was published in Boston in 1832.