Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Sadie Lewis Adams, 1872-1945

By Gigi Davis
Doctoral Candidate, Howard University


Sadie Lewis Adams was a pioneering Black American suffragist and equal rights activist. Adams's dedication to breaking down the social and political barriers to racial equality led her to tireless work in a myriad of Black female organizations, in both support and leadership positions. During the early twentieth century, Adams's passionate participation in the struggle for black political representation and her diligence in racial and social uplift blazed a path for all future agents of social change across the nation.

Sadie Lewis was born in Staunton, Virginia in 1872. Adams graduated from public school in Staunton and then attended Hartshorn College in Richmond, Virginia. She soon thereafter became a teacher in the Staunton school system and worked as an educator there and at the John Wesley M.E church. She resigned her teaching position after her marriage to John P. Adams in 1892. After seventeen years of being a stay at home mother, Adams moved to Chicago in 1910 and became a member of St. Thomas Episcopal Church. She also joined the church's charity organization, the Dorcas Society, serving as secretary and later as president.

Adams was an avid advocate for children's rights as well as an organizer around Black women's social causes as a community outreach representative. She joined the Baby's Relief Club and presided as president for three years; she volunteered at Provident Hospital as a recorder of newborn vital statistics; and helped found the Amanda Smith School for Girls that was located in a southwest suburb of Harvey, Illinois. As a member of the Woman's City Club and an associate member of the Y. W. C. A., Adams invested herself in the well being of Black youth. These activities demonstrated the importance of Black female leadership in the community and Adams went on to become both a judge and clerk at the Illinois Home and Aid Society board and was one of the first Black women to serve on an election board.

With the outbreak of the First World War, Adams's only son enlisted in the military and faithfully served his country. While her son was abroad fighting on the front lines, Adams volunteered at the State Council of Defense. This organization enlisted women for war production work.

With the war over and her son back home, Sadie recommitted herself to the suffrage movement. She resumed her work at the Alpha Suffrage Club as secretary alongside then president Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Within three years Adams was elected vice-president of the Alpha Suffrage Club. She attended the National Equal Rights League in Washington, D.C. as the sole black delegate. She was also appointed delegate to the Chicago Federation of Women's Club and served as delegate at the Illinois Equal Suffrage League held in Chicago. In April 1922, Adams again was the only black delegate from Illinois present at the Pan American Congress-National League of Women's Voters' Convention that was held in Baltimore. Contributing to various organizations Sadie Adams became a recognized leader in the suffrage movement, filling the position of both chairperson and vice president of the National Association of Colored Women. In 1924, while in her position as chairwoman, Adams hosted the 14th biennial convention of the NACW in Chicago. This gathering welcomed both white and black women from across the country who had dedicated themselves to organizing around women's rights. In line with their mission of the uplift of women, these women discussed, alongside domestic goals, efforts to uplift women in Africa.

Throughout her life Adams committed herself to social issues that affected both her gender and race. Sadie Adams passed away in Chicago in July 1945. As a committed Black woman suffragist, Lewis used her relatively elite position to argue for social reforms and the improvement of conditions and the lives of all African Americans. Adams left a legacy of progressive activism and inspiring collective organizing. In all, Sadie Lewis Adams lived a life that rings true to the motto "Lifting as We Climb." Adams's impermeable passion for the enrichment of her race, as well as her relentless temperament for active protest, lifted up her generation.


Davis, Veronica. (2005). Inspiring African American Women in Virginia. New York, Universe.

Davis, Elizabeth Lindsay. (1922). The Story of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Club. Chicago. [LINK]

Hendricks, Wanda A. (1998) Gender, Race, and Politics in the Midwest: Black Club Women in Illinois. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Davis, Elizabeth Lindsay. (1933) Lifting As They Climb. Washington, National Association of Colored Women. [LINK]

"Gentle war mother heads Clubwomen's Peace Program" The Chicago Defender, Feb. 19, 1938, p. 17.

Taylor, Rebecca Stiles, "Federated Clubs: A true story of 50 years of lifting and climbing," The Chicago Defender, May 13, 1950, p. 10.

"Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1994," database, FamilySearch ( : 18 March 2018), Sadie Lewis Adams, 30 Jul 1945.


Links to Additional Biographical Sketches

The Story of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Clubs


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