Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Adella (Mrs. Charles H.) Brooks, 1869-1961
By Amber Harrison, Master's student and Liette Gidlow, associate professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Adella May Smith, was born on September 5, 1869 in Wooster, Ohio. She had two older brothers: Frank L. Smith (1859) and Forrest J. Smith (1862). Their parents, Jesse and Barbara Smith, were both born in Pennsylvania (in 1829 and 1837, respectively) but raised their children in Ohio. Jesse Smith worked as a carpenter while Barbara Smith "kept house."
It was in Kansas where Brooks met English schoolteacher Charles Henry Brooks. On September 22, 1896, they married in Girard, Kansas. Establishing roots in the state, Brooks had two children: Freda Brooks in 1905 and Doyle Brooks in 1909. As her mother did, Brooks's primary role at this time was raising her children and keeping house.
Brooks's suffrage work first appears in the public record in 1917, after her family moved to Wichita, Kansas. Kansas had already approved an equal suffrage amendment in 1912 but the campaign for a federal amendment continued. Brooks was elected president of the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association on June 21t, 1917, keeping the fight for equal suffrage alive.
Brooks made a name for herself as a prodigious fundraiser. The Wichita Daily Eagle reported on September 20, 1917 that "Mrs. Charles H. Brooks, state president of the Woman's Suffrage Association, has appointed finance committees for every county in the state for the purpose of raising money to send to the suffrage envoys south. These envoys are to be sent from the states in which there is suffrage into those states which do not have it with the intention of promoting interest in the cause." She and her entire board were elected to a second term in 1918 on the strength of her fundraising work. Under her leadership the organization also raised funds for soldiers fighting in the Great War.
Her reputation grew as she extended her suffrage work to other states. She raised funds for suffrage work in Oklahoma and soon came to the attention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
On March 24, 1919, NAWSA commenced its Jubilee Convention activities in St. Louis. NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt encouraged the organization to continue fighting for their rights. One of the ways Catt sought to help move them forward was the creation of the League of Women Voters. The League of Women Voters would be a branch of NAWSA, created for states that had already won suffrage. Catt nominated Brooks to be the national chair of this new organization, and Brooks assumed her new role.
Brooks continued making appearances throughout the country, as speaker (such as being the requested speaker at The Women Voters of Rhode Island Banquet in 1919), organizer, and other roles that helped the woman suffrage cause move closer to national success. However, Brooks did not seek reelection for the national chairwoman of the League of Women Voters position, and her first and only term ended in 1920.
Brooks, along with many women throughout the country, eventually earned a hard-earned victory. In 1920, the United States ratified the 19th Amendment, earning American women the right to vote in all elections.
Brooks continued her activism after ratification. She represented Kansas at the Pan-American conference of women in Baltimore. She also presided over a meeting of the Women's League of Harper in April, helping jumpstart a movement to clean up the city as well as help with securing new organization members. She also supported the creation of a Citizenship School and acted as treasurer for the Salvation Army.
Though they moved often throughout Kansas, as they got older, the Brooks settled down in Hays, Kansas. Charles Henry Brooks passed away on May 3, 1953. Adella Brooks passed away of pneumonia on May 29, 1961.
A photograph of Adella Brooks can be found in "Wichita Woman Heads Equal Suffrage Club," Topeka Daily Capital, June 24, 1917, p.4.
"Adella M. Brooks (born Smith)." MyHeritage Library Edition. https://records.myheritagelibraryedition.com/research/record-40001-785637473/adella-m-brooks-born-smith-in-familysearch-family-tree.
"Adella M. Smith." MyHeritage Library Edition. https://records.myheritagelibraryedition.com/research/record-10129-77223844/adella-m-smith-in-1880-united-states-federal-census.
"Charles Henry Brooks." MyHeritage Library Edition. https://records.myheritagelibraryedition.com/research/record-40001-802702685/charles-henry-brooks-in-familysearch-family-tree.
"Della Brooks." MyHeritage Library Edition. https://records.myheritagelibraryedition.com/research/record-10132-25801743/della%20brooks-in-1910-united-states-federal-census.
Harper, Ida Husted. The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume VI. National American Woman Suffrage Association, 2009.
"Mrs. Brooks Enthusiastic Over Citizenship Schools," The Wichita Daily Eagle (Wichita, KS), Jan. 11, 1920.
"Mrs. C. H. Brooks Talks to Harper Women's League." The Wichita Beacon (Wichita, KS), April 13, 1922.
"Mrs. C. H. Brooks Withdraws." The Topeka Daily Capital (Topeka, KS), Feb. 3, 1920.
Stuttherd, T. "Marriage License," No. 533, Crawford County, Kansas, 1896.
Ware, Susan. American Women's History: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.
"Wichita Woman Honored with Suffrage Post." The Wichita Daily Eagle (Wichita, KS), April 1, 1919.
"Wichita Women to Attend Pan-American Congress." The Wichita Beacon (Wichita, KS), March 20, 1922.
"Women's Suffrage." Kansas Historical Society. November 2001. https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/women-s-suffrage/14524.
"Woman's Suffrage Committees." The Wichita Daily Eagle (Wichita, KS), Sept. 20, 1917.
Young, Louise M. In the Public Interest: The League of Women Voters, 1920-1970. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.