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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.

ADAMS, Austin

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Austin Adams

ADAMS, Austin. (Andover, Windsor Co., VT, May 24, 1826--Dubuque, IA, Oct. 17, 1890). Austin Adams came from a long line of distinguished men. Of the same family as Samuel Adams, Revolutionary War hero, Austin's father was a Vermont legislator and his uncle organized the Adams Express Company. (1) After closing his studies in the common schools, Adams at the age of fourteen entered Black River Academy to complete his preparatory studies. At the age of nineteen, he entered the sophomore class of Dartmouth College at Hanover, New Hampshire, from which he graduated. (2) During this time, he frequently attended court and listened to the arguments of the advocates. (3)

After leaving college, Adams accepted the position of principal of the Academy at West Randolph, Vermont, while using his leisure time to study law. (4) He attended Harvard Law School and was admitted to practice at Windsor, Vermont in January, 1854, after being examined by the Hon. Jacob Collamer, later United States Senator, and, before that time, Postmaster General in Taylor's Cabinet. (5) Adams established a brief partnership with ex-Governor Coolidge.

Adams with his wife Mary moved to Dubuque in 1854. He became a leading Iowa attorney and served as a judge on the Iowa Supreme Court from January 1, 1876, until December 31, 1892 and as its Chief Justice beginning in 1880. (6) He held the office of regent of the State University of Iowa for sixteen years, president of the board of education in Dubuque, and was a law lecturer from 1875 until his death. (7) The DUBUQUE LIBRARY ASSOCIATION was organized in his office in 1856. He contributed many books to its library and delivered a series of lectures as part of its program. (8)

Austin was the originator of the ROUND TABLE. Inviting friends to discuss philosophy, art, science or politics, Adams saw the Club meet regularly from 1864 to 1884 in the FACADE BUILDING. No alcohol was served as it was the agreement that it could "dull the thinking." Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the many literary figures who lectured here, found the Round Table so unique that he carried the idea to Park House in Boston where he and his friends duplicated the atmosphere. Others attracted, in part, to Dubuque because of the Club's reputation were Bronson Alcott, transcendentalist leader; Wendell Philipps, reformer and orator; Louis Agassiz, and Julia Ward Howe. Among the members of the Club were David B. HENDERSON and Oliver Perry SHIRAS. (9)

One of the state's most farsighted jurists, Adams was one of Iowa's first lawyers to encourage women to study law. Later he was the first chief justice in Iowa to allow women to practice before the Supreme Court. (10) Austin Adams was the father of Eugene ADAMS and the husband of Mary Newbury ADAMS.



1. "Notable Dubuque County Lawyers of Past Years," Telegraph Herald, Feb. 11, 1917, p. 17. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=qwheAAAAIBAJ&sjid=518NAAAAIBAJ&pg=2788,1478831&dq=dubuque+central+improvement+company&hl=en

2. Austin Adams. Online: http://www.iowacourtsonline.org/wfdata/frame1773-1463/pressrel20.asp

3. Oldt, Franklin T. The History of Dubuque County, Iowa, Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880, p. 759-760

4. "The Late Justice Adams," Dubuque Daily Herald, October 18, 1890, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18901018&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

5. Oldt.

6. Gue, B. F. History of Iowa From the Earliest Times To The Beginning of the Twentieth Century, Volume IV, Iowa Biography. Online: www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~iabiog/iastbios/hi1903/hi1903-a.htm

7. Adams Family Papers. Online: http://www.lib.iastate.edu/spcl/manuscripts/MS010.html

8. "Notable Dubuque County Lawyers..."

9. Slichter, Harry, "The Adams' Round Table," Telegraph Herald, May 19, 1966, p. 3

10. Gue, B. F. www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~iabiog/iastbios/hi1903/hi1903-a.htm