Adams, Clover (1843–1885)

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Adams, Clover (1843–1885)

American Brahmin and spirited wife of Henry Adams. Name variations: Marian Hooper Adams, Marian "Clover" Hooper. Born Marian Hooper in 1843; committed suicide on December 6, 1885, age 42; daughter of Robert William Hooper and Ellen (Sturgis); sister of Ellen "Nella" Hooper Gurney (1838–1887); married Henry Adams (1838–1918, noted historian and author), in June 27, 1872; no children.

In Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington D.C., there stands a six-foot statue, a memorial to Clover Adams by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, commissioned by her husband. It presents a seated, enigmatic woman in bronze, with one foot resting on a cushion of rock. As her face recedes mysteriously beneath a shroud that blankets her entire body, one arm breaks through the folds, the hand poised beneath her chin. It is not a replica of Clover Adams; rather, it is said to resemble a Buddhistic goddess of compassion.

Clover Adams, the only wife of Henry Adams, killed herself on December 6, 1885, age 42. She is a missing chapter in her husband's famous autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams. The autobiography's 20th chapter is dated 1871, the year before he married his wife. The subsequent chapter is entitled "Twenty Years After." Throughout the telling, Clover Adams does not exist.

She was born Marian Hooper in 1843, into two of Boston's oldest families, the Hoopers and the Sturgises. Her mother Ellen Sturgis Hooper was an intellectual, a feminist, and a friend of Margaret Fuller . Wrote Ellen to her younger sister Susie : "I read books of women's rights until I feel like the down-trodden women." When Susie suggested that women limit themselves to "women's sphere," Ellen impatiently replied, "I am thankful one woman is in her sphere (as you seem to believe you are) and only wish a visiting committee for the nations may be appointed to ascertain its exact circumference. A woman's sphere seems to me just what she can fill and I don't see why Charlotte Corday had not as good a right to the dagger as Brutus, although I have no doubt she may have been missed in the kitchen."

Clover's aunt, another of her mother's four sisters, was Caroline "Carrie" Sturgis Tappan , a Transcendentalist, friend and correspondent of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and builder of Tangle-wood. Much of Tappan's unpublished poetry reflects shared feelings with sister Ellen Hooper: "Standing like statues, ever in one place,/ When every man a citizen shall be,/ But I and all my sisters long must wait,/ Enforced obedience our childish fate."

When Clover was five, Ellen Hooper died of tuberculosis. Clover, her brother Ned, and her sister Nella were raised by their doctor father. By 1857, 14-year-old Clover was attendingElizabeth Agassiz 's new school for young ladies on Quincy Street in Cambridge, the forerunner of the college known as Radcliffe. As she grew older, Clover took a keen interest in events. She performed volunteer work for Boston's Sanitary Commission during the Civil War, and at war's end journeyed to Washington to watch Grant and his Army of the Potomac pass in review. She also attended the trial of the conspirators of the assassinated Lincoln. "Mrs. Surratt only shows her eyes," she wrote, "keeping her fan to her face. All the men except Paine have weak, low faces. Paine is handsome but utterly brutal … his great gray eyes rolling about restlessly."

At 28, still unmarried and no suitor in sight, Clover Hooper seemed to be enjoying life. One Sunday morning in March 1871, she wrote to a friend: "I'm so happy sitting on the floor, with my back against the window and hot sun going through me bringing a prophecy of spring and summer and great things…. It seems a fitting time for a friendly chat when the gay church bells have rung the good white sheep into their respective fields and left the naughty black ones to enter sunshine and quiet."

One year later, on June 27, 1872, she married historian and teacher Henry Adams, a great grandson of John and Abigail Adams and grandson of John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams . Soon after Henry met Clover, he had written to a friend: "She knows her own mind uncommon well. Her manners are quiet. She reads German—also Latin—also, I fear, a little Greek." Many were drawn to her. Henry James called the couple the "Clover Adamses," and wrote his brother that she was "a perfect Voltaire in petticoats," with "intellectual grace."

Following their marriage, the couple sailed to London on the S.S. Siberia. On board, half of the Brahmins of Boston were either strolling the decks or lying below, suffering from seasickness, as were the Adamses. Clover wrote in her journal: "H. and I lie and gaze at each other. Wonder if life has anything in store for us. Swallow beef tea. Think it may have. Struggle on deck at two…. Mr. Parkman confesses he has been happier; Mr. Lowell quotes Shelley." Their recovery brought on another curse, endless days of barbed chats. Historian Francis Parkman's "ideal woman is found in perfection, behind the purdah of Morocco," she wrote. "If I talked much with him, I should take the stump for female suffrage in short time."

The journey was the beginning of a one-year tour of Europe and parts exotic. Clover's faithful Sunday letters to her father, which document her 13-year marriage, give inklings of the mental fatigue that was taking place. In Egypt, at the beginning of a three-month boat excursion up the Nile, she wrote that Henry was "utterly devoted and tender," and the weather was beautiful, with "the roses and jasmine in bloom." But bad weather came and the confines of their cabin on the small river boat took their toll. "I must confess," she wrote her father, "I hate the process of seeing things which I am hopelessly ignorant of, and am disgusted at my want of curiosity. I like to watch pyramids, etc., from the boat, but excursions for hours in dust and heat have drawbacks to people so painfully wanting in enthusiasm as I am." Harold Dean Cater, in his Henry Adams and His Friends (1947), suggests that it was on this trip that her husband witnessed her first "nervous collapse," abetted by extreme depression. On their return to England and London society, Clover's old spirit appeared to revive.

Hooper, Ellen Sturgis (1812–1848)

American poet. Born on February 17, 1812; died of tuberculosis on November 3 or 4, 1848; daughter of William Sturgis (1782–1863, a sea captain and merchant) and Elizabeth M. Davis (daughter of Judge John Davis); sister of Caroline Sturgis Tappan ; married Robert William Hooper (1810–1885, a doctor): children: Nella Hooper Gurney (1838–1887); Edward William Hooper (who married Fanny Hudson Chapin , 1844–1881); Marian Clover Adams (1843–1885). Author of hymns and lyrical verse, including Beauty and Duty.

Gurney, Nella Hooper (1838–1887)

American Brahmin. Name variations: Ellen Gurney. Born Ellen Hooper in 1838; died in 1887; daughter of Robert William Hooper and Ellen Sturgis Hooper (1812–1848); sister of Clover Adams (1843–1885); married Ephraim Whitman Gurney (1829–1886, a Harvard professor); no children.

Returning to America in 1873, after another rugged crossing, they bought a four-story house at the corner of Marlborough and Clarendon streets in Boston's Back Bay. The marriage seemed to thrive. Henry taught his own brand of history at Harvard; Clover resumed her classical studies. "My wife flourishes like the nasturtiums," wrote Henry. "She studies Greek. All our young women study Greek. It has become the correct thing to do. As I am innocent of Greek and would have to go back twenty years to pick it up, I have to keep her in check with Mediaeval Latin."

In 1877, they moved to Washington, D.C., to a home one block from the White House. Immediately, they were welcomed into Washington's upper strata. Clover delighted in reporting to her father that Rutherford B. Hayes and Lucy Webb Hayes "suffer much from rats in the White House, who run over their bed and nibble the president's toes. 'Uneasy lies the toes that wear a crown.'"

Clover Adams was a woman of strong opinions who was especially irritated by the Washington assumption that wives should remain behind the veil. Intelligent and deeply political, she abhorred the institution of "ladies lunches." "To sit and see 25 women between fifty and seventy years of age eat for two hours is a discipline worthy of the Spanish Inquisition. I said to myself, 'This too shall pass away.'" She soon found that her caustic remarks were being quoted by her father and getting back to her in-laws, Charles Francis Adams and Abigail Brooks Adams , who were not fond of Clover; Abigail called her "a queer woman."

Clover accompanied her husband on his trips for historical research, often helping him. For Henry's continued research into the Jefferson era, they returned to London in May 1879. That autumn, they went to Paris where Clover spent her 36th birthday in the company of Jack and Isabelle Gardner . The next stop was Spain and the galleries, where they stuffed themselves with "Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and Velasquez."

But Clover began to tire of helping her husband search for diplomatic documents, and she longed for home. Instead, they returned to London where she studied the social world and the peculiarities of the English political system. She took it upon herself to visit Parliament with a friend and found herself "as if in a harem. We looked down from a lattice screen from the ladies' gallery." She watched Sir Charles Dilke, "who cremated his wife as a sign of wide views, chewing a sheaf of papers and scratching his bald head while the royal family were prayed for," then she went to have tea "in a little room set apart for ladies." She visited Whitehall when the dean of Windsor handed out used shoes and stockings to the poor: "The amount of anthems and prayers and self-glorifications which accompanied the giving away seems to a dissenting mind unnecessary." She listened to the gossip concerning the marriage of George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans ) and American stockbroker John Cross. "She is about 55—J. Cross 38, they say—the comments are likely to be many and hard." It was her opinion, she wrote her father, that "a woman of genius is above criticism." Adams continued to aid her husband in his research: "Before breakfast we get time for writing notes, reading papers, etc., and after that we both go to the British Museum and work till it closes."

Finally stateside once more, they leased a large old house at 1607 H Street in Washington in October of 1880, just across the park from the White House. That same year, Henry anonymously published his notorious political satire Democracy. When the city was rife with rumors that the author of the novel was Clover Adams, Henry was delighted. So was Clover Adams, who would sometimes mischievously acknowledge authorship. But when her father heard the rumors, she emphatically denied them. Wrote her biographer Otto Friedrich:

There is no reason to doubt Clover's denials on the authorship of Democracy, but that does not mean that she had no part in it whatsoever. On the contrary, there are numerous descriptions of the Washington landscape that sound remarkably like Clover's letters…. "I make it a rule," [Henry] once wrote to [John] Hay, "to strike out ruthlessly in my writings whatever my wife criticises, on the theory that she is the average reader, and that her decisions are, in fact if not in reason, absolute."

The portrait of Madeleine Lee contained in the novel bore a strong resemblance, physically as well as mentally, to Henry's wife. "She read philosophy in the original German," he wrote of his character, "and the more she read, the more she was disheartened that so much culture should lead to nothing." The character of Madeleine Lee is also self-destructive and suicidal. In the novel, Madeleine tells a friend: "We shall grow to be wax images, and our talk will be like the squeaking of toy dolls. We shall all wander round and round the earth and shake hands. No one will have any object in this world, and there will be no other."

Adams, Abigail Brooks (1808–1889)

American Brahmin. Name variations: Abby. Born in 1808; died in 1889; daughter of Peter Chardon Brooks (a merchant); married Charles Francis Adams (1807–1886, a lawyer, diplomat, and congressional delegate); children: Louisa (1831–1870, who married Charles Kuhn); John Quincy II (1833–1894, who married Fanny Crowninshield ); Charles Francis, Jr. (1835–1915, who married Mary Ogden ); Henry Brooks Adams (1838–1918, a historian, who married Clover Adams ); Arthur (1841–1846); Mary (1845–1918, who married R.H.P. Quincy); Brooks (1848–1917, a historian, who married Evelyn Davis ).

Friendship between the Adamses and Henry James thrived. After years as an expatriate, James determined to visit them in Washington when he arrived in America. "That young emigrant has much to learn here," Adams wrote her father.

He is surprised to find that he can go to the Capitol and listen to debates without taking out a license, as in London. He may in time get into the "swim" here, but I doubt it. I think the real, live, vulgar, quick-paced world in America will fret him and that he prefers a quiet corner with a pen where he can create men and women who say neat things and have refined tastes and are not nasal or eccentric.

Henry James portrayed Clover as Mrs. Bonnycastle in Pandora, while using her also as a model for Marcellus Cockerel in The Point of View. It was Cockerel who, in comparing England to America, said that in America there is no "wife-beating class, and there are none of the stultified peasants of whom it takes so many to make a European noble."

The social atmosphere of Washington was beginning to pall. "Her salon was too famous," noted Friedrich, "and too many ambitious people besieged it." Wrote Clover, "No one is admitted now by my majestic Cerberus if they ask if I 'receive' and so only those who walk in without asking come at all."

In 1882, Clover secured a camera and persuaded friends to pose for her: historians George Bancroft and Francis Parkman, six-year-old Jerome Bonaparte, architect Henry Hobson Richardson, Charles Francis Adams, as well as her husband. At a time when photography was difficult, she was good at it. In the last two years of her life, she spent hours in her darkroom. She also went for long walks along the Potomac and reveled in horseback riding in the wilds of Rock Creek Park.

Just before Christmas 1883, the couple decided to build their first house at the corner of H and 16th. They hired H.H. Richardson as the architect and proposed a four-story brick in what she called his "neo-Agnostic style." That same year, Esther was published, a novel about a woman's failure to attain religious faith that Henry wrote under the pseudonym Frances Snow Compton. He later acknowledged that his wife served as a model for the character.

Clover Adams suffered from what were then considered mysterious ailments. Even a sore throat, wrote her husband, could bring her to a state where she "could neither speak, nor sleep, nor swallow, nor breathe, nor stand, nor sit, nor lie." In mid-March 1884, when Clover's father was stricken with angina, she hurried to his bedside and nursed him until he died on April 13th. After his death, Clover plunged into depression and enormous guilt. She was, "sorry for every reckless word or act, wholly forgotten by all save her," wrote her sister Nella. Clover said repeatedly to her visiting sister, "I'm not real. Oh, make me real." When friends came to visit, she would "lapse into silence," wrote Friedrich, "then rub her hand back and forth across her forehead as though trying to remember, or to forget, or to understand, something beyond her control."

While the slow process of building their house continued, she seemed no longer interested. Henry's brother Charles visited and later reported, "She was engaged the whole time in introspection and self-accusation." Clover wrote to her sister, "If I had one single point of character or goodness I would stand on that and grow back to life." In the same letter, she praised Henry as "more patient and loving than words can express."

When Henry Adams ascended the stairs on a bleak December day in 1885 to ask his wife if she was willing to receive visitors, he found her lying on a rug before the fire; she had fallen out of her chair. Lying next to her was a bottle of potassium cyanide, one of the chemicals used in her darkroom. Later scholars would find a notation, handwritten, inside the back cover of her Bible:

I slept and dreamed that life was Beauty,—
I woke, and found that life was Duty….

This poem, written by her mother, had been printed in the inaugural issue of The Dial.


Friedrich, Otto. Clover. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1979.

Shepherd, Jack. The Adams Chronicles. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1975.

suggested reading:

Chalfant, Edward. Better in Darkness: A Biography of Henry Adams, His Second Life, 1862–1891. Archon, 1993.


The Adams Papers in the Massachusetts Historical Society, at 1154 Boylston Street in Boston.

related media:

"The Adams Chronicles" (13 hour-long dramatizations), produced by PBS, directed by Fred Coe, 1976.

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Adams, Clover (1843–1885)

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