Mary Newbury Adams

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Mary Newberry Adams - History of Iowa.jpg
Mary Newbury Adams - History of Iowa

Mary Newbury Adams (October 17, 1837 – August 5, 1901) was an American women's suffragist and education advocate. She was a major social and political activist, and she helped found the Iowa Federation of Women's Clubs and the Northern Iowa Suffrage Association. Adams was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1981.[1]

Early life[edit]

Mary Newbury Adams was born in Peru, Indiana on October 17, 1837 to Mary Ann Sergeant and Samuel Newbury. Her father was a Presbyterian minister and a supporter of co-education for men and women. Her parents were strong abolitionists, and their family was forced to move several times in search of a congregation with like-minded views. In her youth, Adams lived in Peru, Indiana, White Pigeon, Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio, and Jackson, Michigan. In Cleveland, Adams studied under the educator E.E. White.[2] The family permanently settled in Dubuque, Iowa in 1853, though Adams was sent to the Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York to complete her education.[2]

Public life and career[edit]

Adams was a passionate and lifelong learner, and she sought and created spaces of public discourse and education. Much of her work centered around the education and opportunities for women. In 1868 she established the Conversational Club of Dubuque, a study club that supported mutual education of its members on a wide range of subjects. Meetings were held in the homes of its members, which allowed women with young children to attend. A number of similar clubs and organizations were being established across the country at this time, and in 1873 the Association for the Advancement of Women was founded by Maria Mitchell. Adams, emboldened by her work organizing on a local level, became a vice president of the organization in 1875.

Adams began taking public speaking engagements in 1867. The subject of her talks centered around the contributions and strength of women. In 1868 she delivered the commencement address at Lombard College, which may have been the first time a woman was invited to speak at any college commencement.[2]

In 1869, the Dubuque Times hired Adams to cover a women's suffrage meeting in Galena, Illinois run by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. She was impressed by the message and subsequently helped found the Northern Iowa Suffrage Association. Through the organization, Adams corresponded with other women in the state who were interested in suffrage. She also connected with the national movement, and became a council cabinet member of the National Council of Women. She continued to give public addresses and traveled extensively in the last years of her life, including at Stanton's 80th birthday celebration in New York City in 1895, the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and at a meeting of the National American Women's Suffrage Association.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Adams met Austin Adams, a lawyer and teacher, in 1853 in Dubuque, and the two agreed to be married after she finished her education at Troy Female Seminary.[2] Austin Adams became a judge and eventually a chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. Together they had five children, four who survived: Annabel (b. 1858), Eugene (b. 1861), Herbart (b. 1863), and Cecilia (b. 1865).[3]


Adams died of cancer in 1901 in Dubuque, Iowa.[2]


  1. ^ "Mary Newbury Adams". Iowa Department of Human Rights. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Lex, Louise Moede (July 1, 1976). "Mary Newbury Adams: Feminist Forerunner from Iowa". Annals of Iowa. 43 (5): 323-30.
  3. ^ Knight, R. Cecilia. "Adams, Mary Newbury (or Newberry)". BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA. University of Iowa. Retrieved 15 January 2018.