Hannah Adams was born 2 October 1755 in Medford, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States to Thomas Adams (1725-1812) and Elizabeth Clark (1734-1767) and died 2 October 1831 Brookline, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States of unspecified causes.

Hannah Adams (October 2, 1755 – December 15, 1831) was an author of books on comparative religion and early US History, born in Medfield, Massachusetts and died in Brookline. She was the first woman in the United States who worked professionally as a writer.


She was the second of five children born to Thomas Adams (1725-1812) and Elizabeth Clark. Her mother died when Hannah was 11 years old. Showing at an early age a fondness for study, she acquired a fair knowledge of Ancient Greek and Latin from divinity students boarding with her father, who was himself a man of literary tastes.

He became bankruptcy when she was in her seventeenth year, and she and her brothers and sisters were obliged to provide for themselves. During the Revolutionary War she supported herself by making lace, and afterward by teaching..[1] Adams was a woman of varied learning and indomitable perseverance. She was a popular guest in New England society, and once stayed for two weeks at the house of her distant cousin, President John Adams (1735-1826).

Her writings brought her little money, yet they secured her fame and many friends, first among them the Abbé Grégoire, with whom she carried on an extensive correspondence. The quality of her scholarship also earned her the respect and friendship of several prominent Boston intellectuals, most notably William Shaw and Joseph Stevens Buckminster. These men would soon establish the Anthology Society, precursor to the Boston Athenæum, and become Adams’s lifelong allies and patrons, establishing in 1809 a modest annuity that would keep her out of poverty.[1] It was through the sponsorship of these gentlemen that aided her in preparing her History of the Jews (1812).[1]

Adams was the first professional author to be a member of the Boston Athenæum, where some of her letters, early editions of her books and her portrait by Chester Harding are kept.[2] Her autobiography, edited with additions by Mrs. Hanah F. Lee, was published in Boston in 1832.[1] She described herself as a Unitarian Christian.[1]

Her birthplace is preserved in Medfield. Her remains were interred at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts on November 12, 1832. Her monument "erroneously proclaims" that she was the cemetery's "First Tenant," but she was, in fact, the ninth.[3]


  • View of Religious Opinions (1st ed. 1784; 4th ed. retitled Dictionary of Religions) This was her principal work. In it, she gave a comprehensive survey of the various religions of the world. The work passed through several editions, and was reprinted in England. It was a pioneering work, in that she represented denominations from the perspective of their adherents, without imposing her own preferences. This work was divided into three parts:
    1. An Alphabetical Compendium of the Various Sects Which Have Appeared from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Present Day, Full text available on the Google Books
    2. A Brief Account of Paganism, Mohammedanism, Judaism, and Deism
    3. An Account of the Different Religions of the World
  • A Summary History of New England (1799)
  • Evidences of Christianity (1801)
  • The Truth and Excellence of the Christian Religion (1804)
  • An Abridgment of the History of New-England: For the Use of Young Persons: Now Introduced into the Principal Schools in this Town, Boston: Etheridge and Bliss, 1807
  • History of the Jews (1812)
  • Controversy with Dr. Morse (1814) This refers to a legal dispute she had with Morse in 1801.
  • Letters on the Gospels (1824; second edition 1826)


Offspring of Thomas Adams (1725-1812) and Elizabeth Clark (1734-1767)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Hannah Adams (1751-1753)
Betty Adams (1753-1851)
Hannah Adams (1755-1831) 2 October 1755 Medford, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States 2 October 1831 Brookline, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States
Lucy Adams (1757-1836)
Lewis Adams (1761-1808)
George Whitefield Adams (1766-)
Newton Adams (1864-1767)

Offspring of Thomas Adams (1725-1812) and Sarah Harris (1749-1826)
Name Birth Death Joined with
John Wickliff Adams (1773-1870)
James Harvey Adams (1775-)
Mary Adams (1784-)


  • A Memoir of Miss Hannah Adams, Boston: Gray and Brown, 1832, Full text available on Google Books


  • Biography at Unitarian Universalist Association website
  • Who Was Who in America: Historical Volume, 1607-1896. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1963.
  • "Embury, Emma Catherine", American Authors 1600-1900. The H. W. Wilson Company, 1938
  • Adams, Hannah, and Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee. A Memoir of Miss Hannah Adams. Boston: Gray and Bowen, 1832. Accessed October 16, 2007
  • Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Adams, Hannah". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1900. 
  • Wikisource-logo.svg "Adams, Hannah". New International Encyclopedia. 1905. 
  • Hannah Adams at Find A Grave
  • Adams, O. F. Hannah Adams. The Christian Register. August 29, 1912. 827-829.
  • "Hannah Adams." Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936.
  • Schmidt, G. D. A Passionate Usefulness: The life and Literary Labors of Hannah Adams. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004.
  • "Hannah Adams" Sheola, Noah Boston Athenaeum Authors, Boston Athenaeum. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
  • Adams in Middlesex County, Massachusetts
  1. ^ a b c d e Adams, Hannah, and Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee. A Memoir of Miss Hannah Adams. Boston: Gray and Bowen, 1832. [1]
  2. ^ Sheola, Noah. "Hannah Adams". Retrieved 10 July 2016. 
  3. ^ Linden, Blanche M. G. Silent City on a Hill: Picturesque Landscapes of Memory and Boston's Mount Auburn Cemetery. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007: 197. ISBN 1-55849-571-1

Footnotes (including sources)

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