The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber

THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Adams, Mary Newbury (or Newberry)
(October 17, 1837–August 5, 1901)

–suffragist—was born in Peru Township, Miami County, Indiana, to Samuel and Mary Ann (Sergeant) Newbury. Her prominent New England family had included five governors. Born on the frontier, she spent her early childhood living in a log cabin in the wilderness with Native peoples as neighbors and visitors. She received her early education from her mother. Upon moving to Cleveland, Ohio, she entered the classes of the prominent educator Emerson E. White. At age 18, she graduated from the Emma Willard Seminary at Troy, New York. At age 19, she married Austin Adams, a promising young lawyer. They relocated to Dubuque, Iowa, where he became a judge, was eventually elected to the Iowa Supreme Court, and became chief justice. The Adams children included Annabel (b. 1858), Eugene (b. 1861), Herbart (b. 1863), and Cecilia (b. 1865).

    Both Austin and Mary were lifelong students of science, history, philosophy, poetry, and the progressive ideas of the time. Mary believed that the advancement of women required education. She held memberships in the Anthropological Society, National Science Association, and American Historical Association. She was chair of the Historical Committee of the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893.

    Mary Newbury Adams was instrumental in establishing the Federation of Women's Clubs and the Association for the Advancement of Women. She had her eyes and ears open for opportunities to advance progressive ideas and laws, including those that would promote equal access to education. Her first study club, the Conversational Club of Dubuque, was established in 1868. She had attended arranged conversations in the home of her sister, who was married to Governor John J. Bagley of Michigan. Those club meetings were held in the parlors of the members because most women had duties to home and children. The topics, prepared in advance, included education, local progress, political science and economy, mental and moral philosophy, the fine arts, political revolutions, belles lettres, ecclesiastical history, natural philosophy, and physical sciences. That same year the Grinnell Ladies Literary Society invited Adams to lecture at Iowa (later Grinnell) College during commencement-week exercises, but the faculty thought that it would be inappropriate for a woman to speak.

    After hearing Elizabeth Cady Stanton lecture in 1869, Adams became active in the women's suffrage movement as a speaker and organizer of state, regional, and national meetings. She was a founding member of the Northern Iowa Woman Suffrage Association, the first such organization in Iowa. She was chosen to be the corresponding secretary and fulfilled her role by carrying on correspondence with women and women's groups in Iowa and other states. Her local efforts joined with those of nationally known suffragists such as Amelia Bloomer, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucy Stone.

    In 1870 and 1874 the Adamses hosted A. Bronson Alcott, who considered Mary New-bury Adams "the representative woman of the West" and a prophetess or "Sibyl."She visited him in the East in 1872 and in later years and maintained correspondence with the Alcotts about both mundane and philosophical matters. As an active member of the Transcendentalist movement, Mary Newbury Adams traveled and lectured on reform topics, including human potential and woman suffrage. In her later years she explored theosophy, a blend of spirituality, science, and philosophy.

    Mary Newbury Adams was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1981.
Sources The Adams Family Papers, 1836– 1976, are in Special Collections, Iowa State University, Ames. Further information about Mary Newbury Adams can be found in W. Barksdale Maynard, Walden Pond: A History (2004); J. C. Croly, The History of the Woman's Club Movement in America (1898); Benjamin Gue, History of Iowa (1903); The Letters of A. Bronson Alcott, ed. Richard L. Herrnstadt (1969); Louise R. Noun, Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa (1969); Madeleine B. Stern, "Mrs. Alcott of Concord to Mrs. Adams of Dubuque," New England Quarterly 50 (1977), 331–40; and the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame Web site.
Contributor: R. Cecilia Knight

Cite as: Knight, R Cecilia. "Adams, Mary Newbury (or Newberry)" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 13 December 2017