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ADAMS, Mary Newbury

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Mary Adams (Photo: Iowa Commission on the Status of Women)

ADAMS, Mary Newbury. (Peru, IN, Oct. 17, 1837--Dubuque, IA, Aug. 5, 1901). The daughter of a prominent New England family which included five governors, Mary Newbury received her early education from her mother. Upon moving to Cleveland, Ohio she was enrolled in the classes of the well-known educator, Emerson E. White. She graduated from the Emma Willard Seminary at Troy, New York at the age of eighteen and married Austin ADAMS the following year. (1)

Austin Adams established his ROUND TABLE club in 1864 and its fame spread nationwide. Notable guests including Ralph Waldo Emerson joined with well-read local men in lively discussions. No doubt inspired by what her husband had created, Mary organized the CONVERSATIONAL CLUB for women in 1868. Topics prepared in advance included education, local progress, political science and economy, mental and moral philosophy, the fine arts, political revolutions, ecclesiastical history, natural philosophy, and physical sciences. (2) Distinguished guest Julia Ward Howe presented a program to the club and then returned home to begin her own group. By 1881 the club had inspired the development of the DUBUQUE LADIES' LITERARY ASSOCIATION. Mary Adams' "Chips from the Quarries," printed in several publications, carried suffrage propaganda. (3)

After hearing a lecture by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Adams became active in the women's suffrage movement as a speaker and organizer of state, regional, and national meetings. (4) One of the founders of the Northern Iowa Woman Suffrage Society, Adams and her friends called for Dubuque's first suffrage meeting in 1869 after a planned state convention in Des Moines failed to be held. (5) Shortly afterward, she became the chief letter-writer for the society.

Although vice-president of the Association for the Advancement of Women in 1873, she was forbidden to speak to the commencement at Grinnell College. This social slight for assisting Susan B. Anthony and Julia Ward Howe in suffrage activities was later corrected when she became the first woman to address a commencement. (6)

Adams believed women needed education before gaining the right to vote. An early member of the Iowa Federation of Women's Clubs, Adams believed the right to vote would be useless to uneducated women unable to comprehend complex political and social events. (7) The donation of her personal library helped create the county library. (8) Living in predominantly Catholic Dubuque, she was especially concerned about the clergy's great influence over women.

Adams was associated with the Woman's Suffrage Association, Dubuque Ladies Literary Association, General Federation of Women's Clubs, National Science Foundation, Association for the Advancement of Women, Anthropological Society, and the Social Science Association. (9) She chaired the Historical Committee of the Columbia Exposition at Chicago in 1893. (10) In doing so, she had successfully challenged the rules prohibiting women from being managers of the Exposition. (11) She was a strong advocate for kindergarten programs. (12) Interested in all types of social activity, in 1895 she invited Mrs. Grace Hodges Bagley, chairman of the committee on philanthropy in the Chicago Woman's Club to stay at her home for a week prior to her lecture "A Study of Society." (13) Adams was associated with the formation of the Iowa Republican Party. (14)

An active member of the Transcendentalist movement, Mary Adams traveled and lectured on reform topics, woman suffrage and human potential. In her later years, she studied theosophy--a mixture of science, philosophy, and spirituality. (15)

In 1981, Mary Newbury Adams was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame. (16)



1. 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

2. Hudson, David; Bergman, Marvin; Horton, Loren. The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2008 p. 3

3. Slichter, Gail B. "Mary Newbury Adams Helped Lead Dubuque Women to Culture," Telegraph-Herald, March 31, 1963, p. 13

4. Hudson

5. "Mary Newbury Adams," Iowa Commission on the Status of Women, http://www.women.iowa.gov/about_women/HOF/iafame-adams.html

6. Hellert, Susan, "Women Have Made Their Mark on Dubuque History," Telegraph Herald, June 19, 2001, p. 22

7. "Mary Newbury Adams, Iowa Commission..."

8. Hellert, Susan, "Civil War 'She.'" Telegraph Herald, March 21, 2006, p. 46

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

10. Hudson, The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa, p. 3

11. Hellert, "Women Have Made..."

12. "Kindergarten Work," Dubuque Daily Herald, November 11, 1894, p. 10

13. "Personal," Dubuque Herald, July 21, 1895, p. 8

14. Hellert, "Women Have Made..."

15. Hudson, The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa, p. 4

16. Iowa Commission on the Status of Women. http://www.women.iowa.gov/about_women/HOF/iafame-adams.html