Biography of Ada M. Hall, 1861-1943
By Corey Fabian-Barrett, independent historian
Ada Mantha Hall was born around 1861 in Syracuse, New York and was active in the suffrage movement in New York from 1899 through roughly 1912. Daughter of prominent Syracusan businessman Francis Hall, Ada lost her mother, Samantha Rice Hall, in 1866. Soon thereafter, Francis married his second wife, Louisa Yeomans Hall.
Hall and her stepmother were extremely close and, after Louisa's death in 1882, Hall suffered from what her father described as "mild attacks of temporary insanity." Hall was institutionalized by her father at the Middletown Asylum, the first homeopathic mental hospital in the United States.
Hall later returned to Syracuse until her father believed her too unwell to remain at home. He resolved again to institutionalize her and in 1886 they traveled to New York City to visit possible hospitals. While there, Hall escaped from his care and was found wandering Central Park in Manhattan wearing diamonds and a gold watch, unable to account for her presence in the park. She was immediately taken to Bellevue Hospital, the notorious asylum located on the east side of Manhattan, although she was later released into her father's care. At the time of her escape, her father reported that she had been talking of suicide and it was believed that there no hope for her recovery.
But recover she did – by 1895, Hall was back in Syracuse living with her father where she served as his housekeeper until his death. Hall threw herself into the social scene of the city, throwing social teas, joining the Browning Society, a local poetry group, and becoming the club's secretary in 1896.
By 1899, Hall's interests had turned to women's rights and she became active in the Syracuse Women's Educational and Industrial Union, founded in 1886 with the aim of improving the "physical, intellectual and moral condition of women and children." Hall's work there launched an Employment Bureau designed to help young women find gainful employment. Hall's efforts to ensure education and work for local women led to her involvement with the New York Trades School for Girls and Day Nursery in Syracuse, where she served on the Board until 1912.
Through her work with the Syracuse Women's Industrial Union and Employment Society, Hall was drawn into the suffrage movement. By 1901, she was described in the local press as "an ardent suffragist," serving as the corresponding secretary for the New York State Woman Suffrage Association, attending statewide and national suffrage conventions, donating $5.00 annually to the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) (roughly $130 in today's money), and making connections with the major players in the movement, including Carrie Chapman Catt and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Hall served as a de-facto touring manager for both women during their lecture tours throughout New York State in 1902 and 1903, hosting Catt at her home and arranging speaking engagements across the state for Gilman.
Hall also began to lecture herself, speaking on suffrage, architecture, and women's rights starting in 1904. Around the same time, Hall also joined Syracuse's Political Equality Society and became their auditor.
At the New York State Fair in 1903, Hall was chairman of the State Woman's Suffrage association and was also on the Women's Building committee, helping to organize pro-suffrage programming at the women's pavilion at the Fair. Hall also served as president of the Syracuse Day Nursery Association, although she resigned in 1912 "following repeated friction with the directors."
Hall seemed to disengage with the suffrage movement and public life after her father's death in 1912, when she became ensnared in a legal battle with her younger half-brother, Arthur, over the running of her father's business, the first factory constructed on Syracuse's Salt Land. After a year of drama that was avidly followed in the local press, her other half-brother, Edward, stepped in and assumed control of the estate. But that wasn't the end of her legal troubles: in May 1915, a dynamite wagon exploded near her home in Syracuse and she and her brothers spent the next 7 years suing for damages from the dynamite company, eventually receiving just $3,000 of the $25,000 they were owed.
By the 1920s and 1930s, Hall was moving around, living as a lodger in various Syracuse residences according to the Census. She was again hospitalized at the Memorial Hospital Syracuse in 1926 and she died in 1943, leaving half her $12,148.30 estate to her half-sister Florence and the other half to her four nieces and nephews.
Anthony, Susan B. and Ida Husted Harper. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. IV (1883-1900). Rochester, N.Y., 1902. [LINK]
"Francis Hall, Veteran in Business, Dead," Syracuse Journal, December 6, 1912, page 2.
"Has Work for Many," The Syracuse Evening Herald, June 24, 1903.
"Mrs. Hildreth Seems to Think Peace Reigns Again Within Ranks of Board," Syracuse Journal, January 10, 1912, page seven.
New York State Board of Charities, Annual Report of the State Board of Charities for the Year 1898: Volume Two, Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., (New York and Albany: 1899).
"Of Interest to Women," Syracuse Evening Herald, December 6, 1902.
"Select Committees / Woman's Union Elect Chairman and Assistant Chairman for Each and Responsibilities Are Divided," The Syracuse Daily Journal, June 1, 1904.
"Social and Personal Items," The Cazenovia Republican, December 30, 1926, page 5.
"Syracusan Secretary / Miss Ada M. Hall Chosen by State Suffrage Association," Syracuse Evening Herald, [date illegible] 1901.
"Syracusans at Hornellsville," The Syracuse Journal, October 13, 1903.
Syracuse, New York Directories, 1887-1890, AncestryHeritageQuest.com (website).
"Threatened Row Among Hall Heirs Won't Come Off," The Syracuse Journal, January 1913.
"To Be Placed In An Asylum," The Syracuse Daily Standard, November 26, 1886.
"Trade School Pays Up Debts," The Post-Standard, January 11, 1910.
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Tenth census of the United States, 1880-Population, AncestryHeritageQuest.com (website).
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Twelfth census of the United States, 1900-Population, AncestryHeritageQuest.com (website).
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth census of the United States, 1910-Population, AncestryHeritageQuest.com (website).
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth census of the United States, 1930-Population, AncestryHeritageQuest.com (website).
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Sixteenth census of the United States, 1940-Population, AncestryHeritageQuest.com (website).
"Wandering in a Great City / Miss Ada M. Hall of Syracuse Eludes the Keepers of an Insane Asylum," The Syracuse Daily Standard, November 24, 1886.
"WOMAN SUFFRAGISTS / Everybody Will Know Next Week Why Women Should Go to the Polls. / Convincing Programme Has Been Arranged for Annual State Convention in This City," The Buffalo Courier, October 24, 1902.