By Roberta Walsh, independent historian
Adelaide Thompson Williams was born September 1864 in Dunkirk, Chautauqua County, New York, the fifth child and third daughter of Dr. Julian T. Williams and Julia King Thompson. Adelaide's grandparents, Dr. Ezra and Sarah King Clarke Williams, had left Oneida County, New York, in 1820 intending to move west to Sandusky, Ohio. But when they arrived at Dunkirk (a stopping point for lake boats) Dr. Williams was so impressed with the area that they stopped right there, becoming one of the earliest pioneer families of Chautauqua County.
Adelaide's father, Dr. Julian Taintor Williams, was the eighth child of Ezra and Sarah Williams. He was born in Dunkirk, NY, in 1828 and died there in 1905. After graduating from medical school, he practiced medicine and sold pharmaceuticals. In 1882 he bought the Dunkirk Printing Company and became the publisher of several newspapers. He was on the Dunkirk Board of Education for almost fifty years. He served two terms on the New York State Assembly and, in 1887, he was elected supervisor to represent Dunkirk on the county board, serving until 1891. He married Adelaide's mother, Julia King Thompson, at Dunkirk on December 15, 1851.
Adelaide's four sisters were Henrietta “Ella” Clark Williams, Jessie Carlisle Williams, Mabel Walton Williams (1866-1946), and Geraldine Williams (1860-1867). Her oldest sister, Henrietta, was born almost ten years before Adelaide, in 1853. She married Walter Scott, of Philadelphia and had three children. Jessie was born in 1858, graduated from Vassar College in 1880, married Charles Watson Hinkley of Chicago and had one child.
Adelaide's oldest brother, Henry Kirk Williams, was born in 1856, attended Cornell University, married May Elizabeth Willis and had five children. He eventually became president and general manager of the Dunkirk Printing Company. Adelaide's younger brother, Gerald Bismarck Williams, was born in 1870. At the age of nineteen he began working for his father's company, Dunkirk Printing, and eventually became the editor of the Dunkirk Evening Observer. He married Elizabeth MacLeod of Louisville, Kentucky.
Adelaide Williams attended Dunkirk Union schools and followed her sister Jessie to Vassar College.
Adelaide was married on November 12, 1904, to Dr. Harry Draper White, a medical doctor and president of the staff of Rome Hospital. He was the son of Henry Kirke White and Mary Bullard Draper. The Whites lived in Rome, New York.
Dr. and Mrs. White were the parents of one daughter, Julia Kirke White. Julia attended the Birmingham School and Pine Manor. In 1941 she married John Hathaway Dyett, who was Vice-president of the Rome Cable Corporation.
In 1913, the Congressional Union, later the National Woman's Party (CU/NWP) was founded by women's rights activists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns to fight for women's suffrage. Paul and Burns left the much larger National American Woman Suffrage Association as a result of disagreements about tactics and strategy, including the Shafroth-Palmer Amendment. That amendment would require any state with more than 8% signing an initiative petition to hold a state referendum on suffrage. Paul and Burns felt that this amendment was a lethal distraction from their ultimate goal of an all-encompassing federal amendment providing voting rights for all American women.
Three Rome-area women helped solicit money for the National Woman's Party; Lucy Carlile Watson, founder of the Utica Political Equality Club, Glendolen Bens, also of Utica, and Adelaide Williams White. Although they did not picket, they were part of a 50-member area women's group supporting Alice Paul and her efforts to secure the vote.
The September 1, 1914, issue of the Rome Daily Sentinel reported that the Political Equality Club of Rome, NY, held its first meeting the previous day. Adelaide Williams White was the first president of the local organization. At that first meeting the group decided to extend an invitation to Miss Helen M. Todd to speak to the group. Miss Todd was the author of an article titled “Getting Out the Vote” and a very dynamic and popular speaker on women's suffrage. It was significant that she came from San Francisco because she had actually voted in a state election. Three years earlier California had passed Amendment 8, granting women the right to vote in state elections almost a decade before the 19th Amendment provided women's suffrage throughout the United States. There was extensive newspaper coverage of Miss Todd's appearances at the Oneida County Fair in Boonville and at the New York State Fair in Syracuse. The following year, still under Adelaide's administration, the Political Equality Club's invited speaker was Mrs. A. C. Hughston, the New York organizer for the Empire State Suffragist Campaign Committee.
Adelaide Thompson Williams White died at age 53 on July 7, 1917. Services were held first at her home at 217 West Embargo Street in Rome, New York. Her family then accompanied her body on the train to Dunkirk, New York, where a simple service was held at the home of her older brother, Henry. Burial followed in the family lot at Forest Hill Cemetery in Fredonia, New York.
After Adelaide's death, Dr. White married for a second time on October 29, 1918, to Marion Beecher Fear, and they became the parents of two children, Jessie B. (White) Henze and Harry D. White.
In 1931 the New York State League of Women Voters presented a memorial tablet to the State of New York to hang inside the State Street entrance to the Capitol to commemorate the women foremost in the cause of women's suffrage. Four women from Oneida County appear on the tablet: Miss Lucy Carlile Watson, Miss Janet Price, Mrs. Samuel J. Bens and Adelaide William White.
1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com, 2012. Web.
Chapin, Mary. "Alice Paul a Fitting Figure to Remember during Women’s History Month." Observer-Dispatch (Utica, NY) 11 Mar. 2009. Web.
Fitch, Charles E. Encyclopedia of biography of New York, a life record of men and women whose sterling character and energy and industry have made them preëminent in their own and many other states. Boston: The American Historical Society, 1916-
Genealogical and Family History of Western New York: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Building of a Nation, Volume 1 (Google eBook) William Richard Cutter, editor. NY: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1912. Web.
“Harry Draper White” Empire State Society, Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com, 2011. Web.
Interview with the late Jessie (White) Henze. Daughter of Dr. H. D. White and his 2nd wife, Marion B. Fear.
"Mrs. Harry D. White." Dunkirk Evening Observer 10 July 1917: 8. Old Fulton NY Post Cards. Web.
Todd, Helen M. "Getting Out the Vote." American Magazine. 1 Sept. 1911: 611-19.
An earlier version of this sketch appeared Jane Sullivan Spellman, et al., eds. Women Belong in History Books: Herkimer and Oneida Counties, New York, 1750-1950 ([New York: Jane Sullivan Spellman, Publisher, 2015), pp. 151-53 and is reprinted by courtesy of the author.