Bring Historic Letters into the Classroom

Bring Historic Letters into the Classroom

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency—and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.”

This oft quoted text comes from a letter from Abigail Adams to her husband on March 31, 1776, urging him to consider the rights of women as the Continental Congress built the framework of the nation. This letter offers us so much is such a little amount of text. We get context on the American Revolution, insight on the rights of women, a historical precedent for women’s rights activism, and an intimate look at the intersection of the Adams’ personal and political lives. All from one letter! Think of the possibilities of using letters like this as tools to help students connect to history! 

Letters offer students a real and personal experience with history. By allowing students to experience the colorful lives of everyday people about whom history is written, they can expand their understanding beyond just dates and facts. Letters offer us windows into the past by providing quite intimate looks into the lives and thoughts of people as they lived through history. Students get to see the authors’ beliefs about the world around them, what they value, how they interacted with others, and much more. 

For an overview of how to use analyze letters as primary sources, take a look at the guide, “Making sense of Letters & Diaries” from George Mason University. Aside from using letters to practice primary source analysis, there are numerous ways to incorporate them into the curriculum. Try a few of these suggestions! 

  1. Write a Reply- Create a response letter from the perspective of the recipient. Focus on the historical context and writing conventions of the time.  
  2. Letter Gallery Walk- Display letters from one collection around the room. Students will work in small groups to analyze the letters, looking for the ideas and connections in the collection as they move around the room.  
  3. Modern Rewrite- Rewrite the letter as if it was being sent today. Have students focus on updating the language without changing the tone or ideas of the letter.   

We’ve linked to some digital correspondence collections that are both interesting and valuable resources for key topics in social studies classrooms. 


  1. Adams, Abigail. Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 31 March - 5 April 1776. 4 pages. Original manuscript from the Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Blog image citation: Delano, Jack. “Migratory Worker on the Norfolk-Cape Charles Ferry, Writing a Postcard Home to His Parents.” Library of Congress, 1 Jan. 1970,

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