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Woody Holton, associate professor of history and American studies at the University of Richmond, is one of three winners of the 2010 Bancroft Prize, considered among the most prestigious awards in the field of American history writing. The award is given annually by Columbia University.

Holton won for his 2009 book, “Abigail Adams,” the life story of the charismatic and influential wife of the second president of the United States. Abigail amassed a fortune by speculating in Revolutionary War bonds and matched wits with husband John and other Founding Fathers of the republic to advocate for a role for women in creating the nation.

Holton’s book describes Abigail’s advocacy for women’s education and sexual equality, which he discovered in overlooked archives. It presents her as an independent woman who defied centuries of legislation giving husbands control of all marital assets when she engaged in bond speculation without her husband’s knowledge, ultimately becoming a wealthy woman.

She is often remembered for her appeal to the founders to “Remember the ladies.” That appeal was ignored, but Abigail continued her work as a voice for women in the new nation.

Holton credits his students with assistance for the book. "It's fitting that the biggest academic prize I've ever won is for the book where I had the most helpers, especially my students at the University of Richmond, who worked on ‘Abigail Adams’ at every stage of the research and writing."

Holton received a 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship to support his work on “Abigail Adams.” His 2007 book, “Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution,” was a finalist for the National Book Award. He also is author of “Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia” and “Enslaved Americans and the Revolutionary War: A Brief History with Documents.”

Holton will receive the prize at Columbia in April.

Richmond President Edward L. Ayers, a historian of the American South, received a Bancroft Prize in 2004 for his book, “In the Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863.”

 

 

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