Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Adelia Caroline (Morse) Stephens, 1854-1934
By Lauren Lewellen, student, University of Oklahoma
Adelia Caroline Morse was born in Litchfield, Connecticut on March 28, 1854 to Horatio and Marinda Morse. In 1876 she married newspaper businessman George Ross Stephens in Iowa. The couple had one son. The family moved to Oklahoma Territory in 1889, participants in the Land Run held on April 22, and settled in Oklahoma City. There she was a member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, often leading discussions, as well as a member of the Women's League of the All Souls Unitarian Church, vice president for the Lend-A-Hand Society, and secretary for Oklahoma City Humane Society.
Stephens was very active, "a moving spirit" in the women's suffrage movement. After women won the right to vote in Oklahoma Territory's school board elections in 1890, Stephens mobilized the women. She campaigned for women's participation in the upcoming elections, managing to register over 600 women. Even after failed attempts to enfranchise Oklahoma women in the 1907 state Constitution, Stephens continued to actively participate in the newly formed Oklahoma Woman's Suffrage Association, a NAWSA chapter. In October 1908, Stephens served as delegate to New York and attended what would be her first of many national conventions. She wrote editorials for local newspapers and gave lectures in Jessie Nourse's (Sackrider) [LINK to Sackrider bio sketch] real estate office. Assigned to the most grueling task, she set off in 1909 to the rural areas of Oklahoma with petition in hand, canvassing door to door for supporters. Stephens and Ms. Kate H. Biggers were the sole commanders of the campaign to petition the state government to vote on a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote. Facing strong opposition, Stephens traversed Oklahoma's counties distributing suffrage literature and gathering signatures. She went into the most "hostile part of the state" and spoke from "boxes and wagons; in little dark school houses with only one smokey kerosine lamp . . . before large, unsympathetic crowds at open-air meetings." "It was an experience that tested endurance and loyalty almost to the breaking point" she said. Yet, by the end of the campaign, she accumulated over 38,500 signatures on the petition.
The Association presented the petition to the Oklahoma Secretary of State and subsequently the state's House of Representatives. Immediate dismissal of its validity did not prevent it from being passed to the general election for a vote. This gave Stephens and the Oklahoma Woman's Suffrage Association the summer of 1910 to continue to canvass and promote the cause. Stephens, now the Association's corresponding secretary, and Miss Mary Barber went on a soap box tour. Standing on street corners and riding in the backs of wagons, these women spoke of the importance of granting women the right to vote and gave reasons to vote "yes" on the upcoming state constitutional amendment. Interestingly, Stephens was one of five women who endorsed women's suffrage by signing their 1910 tax receipts "paid under protest" akin to "taxation without representation." After enduring another hard campaign, Stephens and the Association were disappointed once again when in November the amendment was defeated.
For a few years Oklahoma's women's suffrage movement went somewhat quiet, but in 1915 Stephens was elected President of the Oklahoma Woman's Suffrage Association. She vowed to use the tactics from the 1910 campaign to bolster greater support as well as lobby the legislature and send questionnaires to candidates for public office. In 1916, she announced that the Association would act to provide more than moral support, that it was to be a "died-in-the-wool-votes-for-women-organization." Stephens served as President of the Association until 1919. Several local newspapers tell of how her continued ground work in the field across the state created momentum and gathered more supporters. Her activism, outreach, and leadership in 1917 played a leading part in women's suffrage being submitted as a constitutional amendment in the next general election. Under Stephens presidency Oklahoma women gained the right to vote in 1918.
A newspaper in 1921 mentioned Stephens as a still active and healthy '89er and pioneer of the women's suffrage movement in Oklahoma. Each year she exercised her right to vote until her death on February 19, 1934 in Oklahoma City. She was 80 years of age.
Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 18 April 1909, 10 September 1916, and 20 November 1916; Ida Husted Harper, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. VI (New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922): 520-537; Louise Boyd James, "Woman's Suffrage, Oklahoma Style, 1890-1918," in Women in Oklahoma: A Century of Change, ed. Melvena Thurman (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1982), 192; The Tulsa Democrat (Tulsa, Oklahoma), 9 September 1917; "Adelia Stephens" U.S. Federal Census. 1910 and 1930 and 1940, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma; The Weekly Times-Journal (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 19 April 1907; The Quinlan Mirror (Quinlan, Oklahoma), 3 September 1908; The Oklahoma News (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 28 March 1917; Harlow's Weekly (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 1921 April 29; Renfrew's Record (Alva, Oklahoma), 29 October 1909; Oklahoma State Register (Guthrie, Oklahoma), 27 October 1910; The Oklahoma News (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 29 March 1916; The Tulsa Chief (Tulsa, Oklahoma), 18 January 1910; "Adelia Stephens" U.S. Federal Census 1880, Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa; Mattie Louise Ivie, Woman Suffrage in Oklahoma, 1890-1918. Thesis. (Chickasha, Oklahoma: Oklahoma College for Women, 1971), 42; Harlow's Weekly (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 2 November 1912; Robert P. J. Cooney, Jr., Winning the Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement (Santa Cruz, California: American Graphic Press, 2005), 135; Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 22 August 1920; The Daily Law Journal-Record (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 19 February 1934; Harriet Taylor Upton, Proceedings of the Fortieth Annual Convention of the National American Woman's Suffrage Association (New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1910 ), 133-35.