Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Ada Cornish Hertsche, 1852-1921

By Julia Thompson, Holocaust Center for Humanity, Seattle, WA.

Suffrage leader of Portland, Oregon

Ada Leila Cornish was born in Rome, New York on March 1, 1852, to parents Joel Northrup Cornish and Virginia (Raymond) Cornish. In 1855 the family moved to Iowa City, IA, where Joel established a law office in partnership with future Iowa governor Samuel Kirkwood. They lived in several other towns in Iowa until 1882, when the Cornishes moved to Omaha, Nebraska. By this time Ada was married to John Henry Hertsche, a native of Geneva, Switzerland, and the couple had three children: Bertha, Joel, and Edward.

Ada's upbringing and her parents' connections may well have influenced her later work in woman suffrage. Virginia Cornish was good enough friends with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to have "entertained [them] many times in her home," according to a volume on women in Nebraska history. Ada's father Joel fought in the Iowa cavalry in the Civil War and was commissioned as a Colonel; in Iowa and Nebraska he was involved in local banking and real estate. Colonel Cornish was written about in 1907 as "a champion of liberty of thought and a man of broad and liberal views."

In 1893, Ada, J. Henry (as he was known), and their three teenage children moved to Portland, Oregon. An 1899 divorce notice in the Oregonian read that J. Henry Hertsche "abandoned her in May, 1895..." Perhaps Ada's experience of divorce, relatively uncommon in the late nineteenth century, affected her opinions on granting women the right to vote, or their independence in society generally. Various records show mixed reports as to J. Henry's next years. While Portland city directories list Ada as "widowed" as early as 1901, U.S. Census and city of Honolulu records consistently show J. Henry Hertsche as a divorced resident of the then-territory capital from 1903 to at least 1917.

Ada Hertsche became active in the woman suffrage movement in her adopted home of Portland soon after moving there. The Oregon Equal Suffrage League was begun in 1894, and Hertsche was a founding member along with president Abigail Scott Duniway, a venerable suffrage leader known throughout the Pacific Northwest. Hertsche started as the League's treasurer, a position she held for two years. By August of 1895, as an article in the Oregonian purports, Hertsche frequently met with "leading society ladies," speaking to her peers on the subject of women's suffrage. In one such meeting, Hertsche alleged that "brains...are quite the fashion now for both sexes," discussing the evolution of "grand ideas" such as labor, capital, and patriotism as stemming historically from the "fireside," the home, and women - not just men.

The Oregon Equal Suffrage League organized a state "Congress of Women," held in Portland in June 1896. Hertsche was treasurer for this event as well, which featured a variety of discussions and events all focused on women's issues, including, but not limited to, suffrage. Susan B. Anthony - Hertsche's mother's onetime visitor - was the heralded keynote speaker. In the fall of 1896 Ada Hertsche was elected vice president of the Oregon Equal Suffrage League. Meanwhile, the Portland Women's Club was begun in December 1896, with Hertsche as a founding member.

Hertsche held her vice presidential role in the state's Equal Suffrage League through 1904, functioning as a sort of right-hand woman to Duniway. In 1905, Hertsche moved back to Omaha on a seasonal basis, still spending quite a bit of time in Portland; in 1910 she again moved to Portland for the better part of that decade. As the society pages of the Oregonian during this time testify, Hertsche continually associated with local suffrage leaders, but no longer had an official leadership role in the Oregon Equal Suffrage League.

Oregon's suffrage campaign was uniquely difficult, especially in context of the West - by and large a region on the vanguard of woman suffrage in the United States. Oregon endured six failed attempts in state legislature to legalize a woman's right to vote, until the state finally gave women the right to vote in a 1912 referendum. Giving this timing, it is very likely that Ada Hertsche did vote for the first time in Oregon.

At some point in the late 1910s, Hertsche again moved back to Nebraska due to poor health. There she may well have voted in the November 1920 election that followed upon the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. She passed away at her sister's home in Omaha on August 2, 1921.


"Census of the Inhabitants in Honolulu City." 1910 U.S. Federal Census, City of Honolulu. FamilySearch. June 24, 2017. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration.

"City News in Brief." Oregonian, August 11, 1895:5. NewsBank.

Cornish, Joseph Edward. The History and Genealogy of the Cornish Families in America. Boston: Geo. H. Ellis Company, 1907.

Duniway, Abigail Scott. Path Breaking: An Autobiographical History of the Equal Suffrage Movement in Pacific Coast States. Portland, OR: James, Kerns & Abbott, 1914.

"The Equal Suffragists Annual Election Held and Officers Named." Oregonian, November 17, 1895: 5. NewsBank.

Find A Grave. "Memorial page for Ada Cornish Hertsche (1 Mar 1852-1 Aug 1921). (accessed October 26, 2019).

"Former Oregonian Dead." Oregonian, August 2, 1921: 10. Historic Oregon Newspapers. University of Oregon Libraries; Eugene, OR.

History Nebraska. "Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association [RG1073.AM] October 26, 2019).

Jensen, Kimberly. "Woman Suffrage in Oregon." The Oregon Encyclopedia. Oregon Historical Society. (accessed October 6, 2019).

Reeves, Winona. The Blue Book of Nebraska Women: A History of Contemporary Women. Mexico, MO: Missouri Printing and Publishing Company, 1916.

Restoration Exchange Omaha. "Local Landmark Status Looms for Two 10th Street Mansions." (accessed October 13, 2019).

"Society." Oregonian, April 27, 1896: 5. NewsBank.

"Society." Oregonian, November 28, 1902: 8. NewsBank.

"Society Personals." Oregonian, July 30, 1905: 3:27. Historic Oregon Newspapers. University of Oregon Libraries; Eugene, OR.

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