Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Lida Stokes Adams, 1862-1940
By Alison Traweek
Lida Stokes Adams was born in Washington, DC, on February 14, 1862, to the Honorable Green Adams and Josephine L. Stokes Adams. She was schooled in private schools in Washington, DC, where her father served in government, as well as in Lexington, KY, her father's hometown, and Philadelphia, PA, where the family moved when Green Adams returned to private law practice. She studied French, German, and Italian abroad as a young woman, and took a great interest in the worlds of civics and education. She remained in Philadelphia as an adult, where census records indicate she lived with her parents until at least 1910 and moved in with her brother, John Stokes Adams, between 1930 and 1940. She seems never to have married, and a New York Times obituary dates her death at age seventy-eight to May 16, 1940. She is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, in Bala Cynwyd.
Around 1909, her interest in civics became a full-fledged passion for politics, particularly women's suffrage. She was an active and dedicated suffragist for the next decade and was a founder of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; additionally, the Women's Who's Who of America, 1914–1915 provides a long list of other suffrage organizations she was involved with. Perhaps inspired by her international education, she was particularly dedicated to the creation of an international coalition of women's suffrage groups. She was particularly well-known for bringing the message of suffrage to new audiences by giving talks and leading discussions on the issue at various organizations around Philadelphia.
Adams was by all accounts a talented speaker, described in one 1910 newspaper article as "terse, eloquent, and brainy," "thoroughly acquainted with [her] subject," and exceptionally versatile and interesting." In one speech delivered in Harrisburg the previous year, she declared that "we as women must continue to sue for that power we have so long demanded in order to escape from civic death." In 1912 she served as the legislative chairman for a special committee organized by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, to which she proposed an amendment to the state constitution granting women the vote; she argued that "the women of Pennsylvania stand today in the position of irresponsibles, with the minors and the imbeciles, unable to choose from among the candidates the men who are to govern us." On February 13, 1913, she wrote to the Harrisburg Patriot to respond to allegations by the "antis" that "[a]ll the good, home-loving women" were against suffrage; she went on to argue that "all anti-suffrage argument is based upon superficial thinking" and closed with some lines from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, that had frequently been quoted by suffragists: "The woman's cause is man's; they rise or sink / Together, dwarfed or godlike, bond or free."
As a prominent suffragist and speaker, Adams drew her share of controversy. Her quick tongue got her in trouble after the Titanic disaster in 1912, when she objected to women being given, and particularly to women accepting, more seats on the lifeboats, saying, "I think that women should have insisted that the boats be filled with equal numbers of men . . . It would have been a wonderful thing for the suffrage cause if this had been done." She was also pushed on racial issues: in 1913, as vice president of the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association, she faced complaints from African American suffragists that they were being snubbed; she assured them that the association would "gladly receive the cooperation of colored women," though the leadership remained exclusively white. In a discussion at the Girard Avenue Unitarian Church on December 7, 1913, she explicitly argued that, just as white and black were equal, so were men and women. For reasons that are unclear but apparently related to petitioning the mayor, she was also compelled to resign from her position as the vice president of the Woman Suffrage Society of Philadelphia, along with the president, on November 7, 1914, though she continued to be active with the movement.
After women won the vote, Adams largely fell out of the public eye. However, she clearly had not lost her commitment to social justice, the ideal of global suffrage, or her reputation: in 1935, she was selected by the National League of Women Voters to be one of only ten women delegates to represent the United States at the twelfth congress of the International Alliance of Women for Equal Suffrage and Equal Citizenship, and, two years later, she attended the eighth annual convention of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in Czechoslovakia.
"Public Will Be Especially Welcome at Two Woman Suffrage Meetings Interesting Sessions," Harrisburg Patriot, November 15, 1910.
"Speaker tells Federation of Women that factory laws are flagrantly violated; Miss Sanville startles convention with revelations of labor conditions," Harrisburg Patriot November 11, 1909.
"Federated Clubs for Equal Rights," Philadelphia Inquirer, November 11, 1909.
Krone, Henrietta Louise, "Dauntless Women: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Pennsylvania, 1910-1920." PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1949.
"Suffragists come back at antis; denies charge that home-loving women are against the vote; thousands are enrolled; woman's cause is man's, says Lida Stokes Adams' statement," Harrisburg Patriot, February 14, 1913.
Stephen Hines, Titanic: One Newspaper, Seven Days, and the Truth that Shocked the World (Naperville, IL: Cumberland House, 2011).
"Colored Women Want to Vote: Declare they are not welcomed by white suffragists," Philadelphia Tribune, Apr. 19, 1913
Jennifer Reed Fry, "'Our Girls Can Match 'Em Every Time': The Political Activities of African American Women in Philadelphia, 1912–1941" (Ph.D. diss., Temple University, 2010).
"Believes races equal; Miss Adams gives Negro his own in address," Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 8, 1913.
"Resigns following rebuke of mayor," Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 8, 1914.
"Mrs. Catt to Sail for Turkey at 76,'" Washington Post, Mar. 11, 1935.
"U.S. Declaration to Leave Soon for Near East." Washington Post, Mar. 11, 1935.
"Phila. Head of W.I.L. Sails for 8th Conv." Philadelphia Tribune July 22, 1937.