Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Adolphine Fletcher Terry, 1882-1976
By Stephanie Maxwell Newton, writer and editor, Little Rock, Arkansas
Suffragist, civil rights advocate, and social reformer
Adolphine Terry was born Adolphine Fletcher on November 3, 1882 to John Gould Fletcher and Adolphine Krause Fletcher in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her father served as a captain in the Confederate Army and then worked in cotton and banking and served terms as sheriff of Pulaski County and mayor of Little Rock. Terry was the oldest of three children. After graduating high school in Little Rock in 1898, she became the second Arkansas student to ever enroll at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Terry credited her education on the East Coast and interactions with classmates from outside the South—particularly with Lucy Burns, who became instrumental in the passage of suffrage nationally—for challenging her thinking about race. In her unpublished autobiography, known as “the Terry Manuscript,” Terry said, “My life would have been entirely different if I had not gone to a good eastern college, and met the kinds of people I did.” Terry graduated in 1902 at the age of 20 and returned to Little Rock soon after.
Back in Little Rock, Terry easily found her place in the social structure of the South. She attended parties, took up riding, and even enjoyed bowling. She also longed for interactions with like-minded, educated women, and in 1905 co-founded the College Club, later part of the American Association of University Women, which encouraged other young women to attend college but also offered graduates an environment for intellectual discussion.
During this time, Terry and fellow Vassar graduate Blanche Martin were asked serve on a national committee investigating the Arkansas educational system, which at the time was spread over many small schools in rural areas with no standardization and poor attendance. Their research and recommendations resulted in the consolidation of 5,000 school districts, foundation of a school superintendent for each county, and means of transportation for children to schoolhouses. Terry also helped form the School Improvement Association, a precursor to the Parent Teacher Association.
Terry married Little Rock attorney and eventual Congressman David Dickson Terry (1881-1963) on July 7, 1910 after a four-year engagement. Terry considered David's young half-sister, Mary Louise, their “first child” after the girl came to live with the Terrys after David's mother's death. The couple then had four children of their own between 1911 and 1922: David Jr., Mary, Sarah (Sally), and William (Bill). Mary, their second child, was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition that allows the bones to easily break. This resulted in trips across the country for treatment. On one such trip to Boston in 1928, Mary met and befriended an orphan named Joseph, whom the Terrys adopted and brought back to Arkansas.
Terry became more involved in the women's suffrage movement when her sister, Mary Fletcher, helped found the Women's Political Equality League in February 1911. The League, later known as the Arkansas Women's Suffrage Association and Equal Suffrage State Central Committee, met twice a month and sponsored public educational programs. Terry also supported the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and National Women's Party (NWP). In the Terry manuscript, she writes, “Mary had been elected the first president of the group because she didn't have a husband who would object. Dave would not have objected to my activity, and I did once march in a parade in the downtown area, but I was not taking on any new responsibilities at the time.” In 1916, Terry presided over NWP President Alice Paul's meeting at Marion Hotel, and she remained a member of the NWP's National Advisory Committee until 1920.
The WPEL first approached the Arkansas legislature about women's right to vote in 1911. The amendment passed in the Senate but failed to pass the House. The group tried again in 1913, 1915, and 1917, when women finally won the right to vote in a primary election. Statewide primary elections were held in May 1918, and more than 40,000 women turned out to vote in Arkansas.
In the Terry manuscript, she says: “To me, the vote represents more than just saying how a person feels about an issue of a candidate. It represents human dignity and the fact that a citizen can express his or her opinion on any subject without fear of reprisal. That, I think, is what real human dignity consists of.”
Throughout her life, Terry continued to contribute her time, money, and talents through social activism. She helped develop the first Arkansas Juvenile Court (where she served on the board for 20 years), start the Girls Industrial School, and establish the first statewide free library system. In 1958, during the desegregation crisis of Little Rock Central High School, she founded the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools. She died on July 25, 1976, in Little Rock.
Bayless, Stephanie. “Adolphine Fletcher Terry (1882-1976).” Arkansas Women's Suffrage Centennial Project: A digital exhibit of the Center for Arkansas History and Culture. https://ualrexhibits.org/suffrage/adolphine-fletcher-terry-1882-1976/
—. Obliged to Help: Adolphine Fletcher Terry and the Progressive South. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2011.
Carter, Scott. “LR Women Making History: Adolphine Fletcher Terry.” Little Rock Culture Vulture. https://lrculturevulture.com/2018/03/03/lr-women-making-history-adolphine-fletcher-terry/
Harris, Peggy. “Adolphine Fletcher Terry (1882–1976).” The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=1779
Taylor, Paula Kyzer. “Women's Suffrage Movement.” The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=4252
Whayne, Jeannie M. and Nancy A. Williams. Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives. https://books.google.com/books?id=1kjzTpa3hpQC&pg=PA272&lpg=PA272&dq=adolphine+fletcher+terry,+arkansas+gazette,+1910&source=bl&ots=0d0Bf87XdY&sig=Vwbcz120AYneP1923d80o60JG7U&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiT2szpvYrZAhWC5IMKHWHEA3AQ6AEIXjAN#v=onepage&q=adolphine%20fletcher%20terry&f=false
Terry, Adolphine Fletcher. Life is My Song, Also manuscript [memoirs of Adolphine Fletcher Terry], pages 1-56, undated.
—. “Courage!” 1938 (under the pseydonym Mary Lindsey, about her daughter Mary)
—. “Cordelia: Member of the Household.” 1967 (about a young black girl who lived with Fletchers when Terry was a child)
—. “Charlotte Stephens: Little Rock's First Black Teacher.” 1973
Adolphine Fletcher Terry, member of a prominent Little Rock (Pulaski County) family who used her position to campaign for social change, civil rights, and education; circa 1910.
Courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System