Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Adaline Wheelock Sterling, 1847-1930
By Chelsea Gibson, Visiting Assistant Professor, Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY
Corresponding Secretary of the Woman Suffrage Party of New York City. Associate Editor of The Woman Voter. President-General of the General Section of the Daughters of the Revolution.
Adaline Wheelock Sterling was born on January 26, 1847 in Brooklyn, New York to Sherman Horace Sterling, a businessman, and Anna Almira Joyce Sterling. One of eight children, Sterling spent her entire life working in and around Brooklyn and nearby Englewood, New Jersey. She graduated from Brooklyn Heights Seminary and later ran a preparatory school for women's colleges in Englewood. She also helped found the Englewood Hospital in 1888 and later served as President of the Board.
It is unclear when Sterling first came to suffrage work, but she balanced it with her dedicated membership in the Daughters of the Revolution (DOR) from the 1890s until her death (not to be confused with the Daughters of the American Revolution). She first joined the DOR, National Society in 1894. In 1895, an account of the DOR, New Jersey Society, noted that Sterling was "well-known for her delightful historical lectures" and praised her for "skillfully avoiding the suffrage question" even as she described the "special value of woman's patriotism." The following year she helped found, and subsequently became the first president of, The Woman's Club of Englewood. In 1897, she became the First Vice-President of the New Jersey chapter of the DOR. She served as the President-General of the General Society of the DOR from 1900-04, during which time she helped arrange the dedication of a Valley Forge Memorial in 1901.
After many years as a successful teacher, in 1897, Sterling ran for a position on the Board of Education in Englewood and was vigorously supported by the Woman's Club. It was unclear whether or not she was actually legally eligible for the position after an 1894 Supreme Court decision took away school suffrage, arguing that women could not vote before a formal amendment was added to the Constitution. It appears that Sterling won her race, and by 1899 was serving as president of the Board.
Sterling's interest in genealogical research directly influenced her activism for women's equality. In 1916, Sterling denounced in a luncheon of the DOR the inequality of tombstones, asking why married women had no personal details on their tombstones and instead were merely identified as "the wife of" her husband. Sterling argued in part that the "sinking of the woman's identity in that of her husband even in the record that is given for future generations to read is extremely unfair."
Sterling increased her suffrage activism in the 1910s. She joined the Woman Suffrage Study Club of New York City and the Women's Political Union. She became the leader of the 19th Assembly District in the Woman Suffrage Party of New York City, for which she also served as the Corresponding Secretary. She was active in the New York Campaign of 1917, which won New York women the right to vote.
Sterling was an accomplished writer. She wrote dozens of book reviews for Harper's Bazaar in the late 1890s. In 1914, she was listed as the editor-in-chief of the National Society of the Daughters of the Revolution's quarterly magazine, The Patriot. She was the Assembly District Editor from 1913-1916 before becoming the Associate Editor of The Woman Voter from 1916-1917 and wrote frequent updates about the activities of the Woman Suffrage Party of New York City. She later wrote a history of Englewood in 1922 called The Book of Englewood.
She died on November 25, 1930 in Brooklyn.
Harper, Ida Husted and Susan B Anthony, eds. History of Woman Suffrage Vol. 4: 1883-1900 (Rochester, NY: Privately Published, 1902), 832. [LINK]
Kent, Louise Leonard, ed. History of the Organization and Work of the National Society Daughters of the Revolution (Concord, NH: Rumford Press, 1930), 169-70.
Leonard, John William, ed. Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915 Vol. R-V (New York: American Commonwealth Company, 1914), 109-10. [LINK]
Sterling, Adaline Wheelock. The Book of Englewood (New York, 1922).
Sterling, Edward Boker. The Sterling Genealogy Vol. I (New York: The Grafton Press, 1909), 431.
"Celebrations and Proceedings of Patriotic Societies," The American Historical Register no. 7 (March 1895): 701-03.
"Path to Office is Not Clear," The Leavenworth Times (KS), 23 April 1897, 8.
"Tombstones for Women Suffs Say," Reading Times (PA), 6 May 1916, 7.