Although women were first admitted to Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1903, it was several years before a dormitory was erected to house them. By 1917, the thirty women who were enrolled at MAC were housed in two fraternity houses leased for them by the college, but with the enrollment numbers rising after the First World War, President Kenyon L. Butterfield sought a more suitable solution.
After receiving an appropriation from the state in June 1919, the College began construction of new dormitory specifically for women. Although Butterfield had hoped to site the dormitory on Orchard Hill on the east side of campus, the site selected was a plot of land on the west side of North Pleasant Street. Dedicated in October 1920 with ceremonies and an accompanying conference on women in agriculture and country life, the new dorm was a Georgian-revival brick building of three and a half stories with the basement at grade-level. The central block is flanked on both sides by rectangular wings with the gable ends facing the road. The windows were wood-trimmed 8/8, with the cornice defining the roofline and the gable peaks in in birch sand southern pine and a wreath detail on the gable.
Usually called The Abbey, Adams House housed 98 student in rooms outfitted at a cost of $75 per room. The building was laid out with a central recreation unit consisting of a reception hall, large living room with fire place, two parlors, and a house mother's sitting room.
In 1962, the Abbey suffered a disastrous fire that spread rapidly through combustible acoustic ceiling tiles. After its residents were relocated to other dormitories, and attempts at renovation, the building was used for faculty offices until 1967, when it was razed to make way for the Lederle Graduate Research Center.
Abigail Adams House was named following a contest run by the MAC Trustees in 1920. The winner of that contest, 14 year old Katherine B. Ehnes of Medfield, was among four who submitted the name of Abigail Adams. Ehnes was selected based on an essay that praised Adams as “a wonderful example” to American women and girls and “the first lady interested in farming, or the first farmerette of Braintree and Massachusetts.”