Ada Celeste Sweet

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Ada Celeste Sweet

Ada Celeste Sweet (born 23 February 1853) was an American reformer and humanitarian from the U.S. state of Wisconsin. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed her United States agent for paying pensions in Chicago, the first position as disbursing officer ever given to a woman by the US government. She established a strict system of civil service reform, which made her unpopular with politicians.[1] In addition to being the founder of the ambulance system for the Chicago police,[2] she found time to do literary and philanthropic work, and to labor for governmental reforms.[3]

Early years and education[edit]

Ada Celeste Sweet was born in Stockbridge, Wisconsin, 23 February 1853. Her father was Benjamin J. Sweet, a successful lawyer and later, a Wisconsin State senator. Her mother, née Lovisa L. Denslow, was a daughter of Elihu Denslow, and from the same place in New York as the Sweet family. There were several siblings including in 1854, Lawrence Wheelock; in 1858, Minnie; in 1865, Martha Winfred; and Benjamin Jeffrey, in 1871.[4]

When the American Civil War began, her father entered the Union Army as Major of the 6th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Afterwards, as Colonel of the 21st Infantry Regiment, he was wounded at Battle of Perryville. Later, he took command of Camp Douglas in Chicago as Colonel of the Eighth United States Veteran Reserve Corps.

Sweet spent her summers in Wisconsin and her winters in a convent school in Chicago. After the war, General Sweet settled on a farm 20 miles from Chicago and opened a law office in the city. Sweet, the oldest of the children, aided her father in his business. She was carefully educated and soon developed marked business talents.[5]


In 1868, General Sweet received from President Grant the appointment as pension agent in Chicago. Ms. Sweet entered the office, learned the details of the business, and carried on the work for years. In 1872, General Sweet was made first deputy Commissioner of Internal Revenue, and moved to Washington, D.C. Ms. Sweet accompanied him as his private secretary. He died on New Year's Day, 1874, leaving an estate too small to provide for his family.[5]

President Grant then appointed Miss Sweet US agent for paying pensions in Chicago, the first position as disbursing officer ever given to a woman by the government of the US.[6] The Chicago agency contained 6,000 names of northern Illinois pensioners on its roll, and the disbursements amounted to over US$1,000,000 yearly. She made the office independent of politics and appointed women as assistants. In 1877, President Hayes made all Illinois pensions payable in Chicago, and her office disbursed over $6,000,000 yearly. She chose her own clerks and trained them for her work. She did so well that, in spite of pressure brought to secure the appointment of a man, she was reappointed in 1878 by President Rutherford B. Hayes, and in 1882 by President Chester A. Arthur. In 1885, the Democratic commissioner of pensions asked her to resign, but she appealed to President Grover Cleveland, and he left her in the office until September, 1885, when she resigned, to take a business position in New York City.[5]

In 1886, she visited Europe. Returning to Chicago, she became the literary editor of the Chicago Tribune. In 1888, she opened a United States claims office in Chicago, and did a large business in securing pensions for soldiers or their families, retiring in 1905.[5] In 1892, Sweet was appointed to the Chicago Board of Education.[7] From 1911 to 1913, she managed The Equitable Life Assurance Society's woman's department.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Sweet lived in Chicago with her brother.[9] She was interested in all the work of women, and served as a member of the Chicago Woman's Club, where she worked on the club committee for compulsory education.[10] She was also a Trustee of the Civic Federation. In May 1894, Sweet became president of the Chicago Woman's Club.[11] She was the founder and first President of the Municipal Order League of Chicago, a society formed to improve the sanitary condition, and thereby the healthfulness, of the city.[12] In October, 1890, she gave the first police ambulance to the city, having raised money among her friends to build and equip it, and thus originated the present system in Chicago of caring for those who are injured or fall ill in public places.[5]


  1. ^ Lake City Publishing Company 1894, p. 609.
  2. ^ Logan 1912, p. 831.
  3. ^ Waterloo & Hanson 1896, p. 434.
  4. ^ Bross 1878, p. 8.
  5. ^ a b c d e Willard 1893, p. 702.
  6. ^ "Ada Celeste Sweet, president of the". Topeka Daily Capital. 14 November 1894. Retrieved 10 January 2017 – via 
  7. ^ "Urge Miss Sweet's Confirmation". Chicago Daily Tribune. 22 September 1892. Retrieved 22 January 2017 – via 
  8. ^ "THE RISE OF A MODERN CITY". Northwestern University. Retrieved 22 January 2017. 
  9. ^ James, James & Boyer 1971, p. 155.
  10. ^ "Miss Ada C. Sweet". The Davenport Democrat and Leader. 5 November 1894. Retrieved 22 January 2017 – via 
  11. ^ "Ada C. Sweet Chosen". The Chicago Tribune. 20 May 1894. Retrieved 11 January 2017 – via 
  12. ^ Lake City Publishing Company 1894, p. 610.


  • This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: W. Bross' Biographical Sketch of the Late Gen. B.J. Sweet: History of Camp Douglas. A Paper Read Before the Chicago Historical Society, June 18th, 1878 (1878)
  • This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Lake City Publishing Company's Portrait and Biographical Record of Cook and Dupage Counties, Illinois: Containing Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens of the County, Together with Biographies and Portraits of All the Presidents of the United States (1894)
  • This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Mrs. J. A. Logan's The Part Taken by Women in American History (1912)
  • This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: S. Waterloo & J. W. Hanson, Jr.'s Famous American Men and Women: A Complete Portrait Gallery of Celebrated People, Whose Names are Prominent in the Annals of the Time, Each Portrait Accompanied by an Authentic Biographical Sketch, Secured by Personal Interview--the Whole Forming a Text Book of National Character (1896)
  • This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: F. E. Willard's A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred-seventy Biographical Sketches Accompanied by Portraits of Leading American Women in All Walks of Life (1893)