Hannah Adams was the first American writer to make a living by using writing as her sole source of income. She was very interested in the various religions and religious sects of the world and wrote about them frequently. Her life was a simple one and she spent it in simple surroundings. However, her accomplishments were great and she was very popular among her peers during her lifetime.
Hannah Adams was born on October 2, 1775 in Medfield, Massachusetts to Thomas and Elizabeth Adams. Elizabeth died when Hannah was only twelve years old and Thomas did all that he could to care for her and her siblings. Hannah was too ill during her childhood to attend a regular school, so Thomas encouraged her to read and learn at home. Thomas also took in students from Harvard and tutored them from the Adams’ home. Hannah joined in on the tutoring and thus received an education from her father. She even went on to do some tutoring of her own.
Hannah Adams first became interested in religious history when she was given a book by one of the Harvard students that were staying in the family home. The book was titled “An [sic] Historical Dictionary of All Religions from the Creation of the World to This Perfect Age.” She enjoyed learning about religion and began to read other texts on the subject. However, she soon became frustrated by the contradictory and self-serving way that religion was presented in these books. It was then that she decided to compile a religious dictionary of her own without giving preference to any belief system.
In 1778, Hannah Adams began compiling her first work. She managed to complete the project just as she had wanted it, without bias. The book was published in 1784 and was titled “An Alphabetical Compendium of the Various Sects Which Have Appeared from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Present Day.” The book sold out, but Hannah’s agent took all of the profits. Hannah then turned to running a school because she needed the money and she didn’t want to keep publishing for free. During this time, she lobbied for the very first copyright law in the United States; it was passed in 1790.
In 1791, Hannah Adams published her second edition, titled, “A View of Religions.” The book was received well both in England and the United States. She began writing to members of the clergy and religious scholars overseas, thus expanding her knowledge and continuing her research. In 1799 she published a different sort of history book titled “A Summary History of New England.” In 1801 an edited version was published as a textbook titled “An Abridgment of the History of New England.”
Hannah Adams continued publishing religious texts for the rest of her life. She even wrote an autobiography that was to be published after her death. She never married and had no children, but it seems she lived a contented life. She died in Brookline, Massachusetts in the winter of 1831. She is buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.