Henry Adams: a Literary Life at Lafayette Square


Washington, D.C., used to be a smaller town than it is now, especially when Henry Adams moved to the District in 1877 and settled near Lafayette Square. In his biography “The Education of Henry Adams,” Adams wrote that “Beyond the square the country began … no literary or scientific man, no artist ever lived here. It was rural and its society was primitive. … The happy village was innocent of a club. … The value of real estate had not increased since 1800, and the pavements were more impassable than the mud. … All this favored a young man who had come to make a name for himself.” Adams must have enjoyed residing in Lafayette Square because he
lived there until his death in 1918.

Henry Adams already had a “name for himself,” given he was the great-grandson of President John Adams and the grandson of President John Quincy Adams. He grew up in patrician surroundings in Boston, where he met and married heiress, Marian “Clover” Hooper, and the couple moved to Washington, D.C. Their friends, Clara and John Hay, who had been secretary to President Lincoln, lived on the square, and the four became good friends.

The Hays and Adams commissioned their friend and architect, H.H. Richardson, to build a semi-detached mansion for them, where they could expand their influential salon. Henry Adams wrote history books and novels, and Clover was an accomplished writer and photographer. When Clover’s father died, she fell into a deep depression, and committed suicide. When the great house was finished, Henry Adams moved into his side of the mansion alone, and soon began traveling and spending much of his time abroad. He continued writing as well as traveling, and entertaining when he was in Washington. In memory of his wife, he commissioned Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create a sculpture for her tomb in Rock Creek Park.

Adams lived and reigned in his home, receiving guests earlier in the day, at breakfast and lunch, as he got older. He had a stroke in April 1912.

Henry Adams never remarried and never again mentioned Clover’s name after her death. The mansion he shared with the Hays was torn down after he died to be replaced by the Hay-Adams Hotel. Henry and Clover are buried next to each other in graves with no inscriptions, only the dramatic Saint-Gaudens statue standing guard over them. The statue also doesn’t have a name, but it has been dubbed “Grief” by the public, because it personifies the emotion so perfectly.

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