Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Cordelia Adaline Quinby, 1833-1925

By Linda Avery, independent historian

Cordelia Brooks was born on Christmas Day, 1833, in Lewiston, Maine. Her parents were Ham and Margaret Ames Brooks. Cordelia was a public school teacher in Maine for thirteen years. In 1861, she married the Reverend George Quinby, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church and editor of the Gospel Banner, and the couple lived in Augusta, Maine.

As a wife, Cordelia assumed the duties that came with being married to a pastor. She was born into a Universalist family and was interested in religious education so she became the Sunday School superintendent where her husband was minister. She was also the national president of the Association of Universalist Women (1891-1902). She supported her husband as pastor and helped him in his job as a newspaper editor. In addition, she took on the role of being a stepmother. Later, she and George had three children of their own.

In addition to the demands of these varying jobs, she was committed to the advancement of women's rights. In January 1873, Cordelia Quinby joined others in sending out a call for the founding meeting of the Maine Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA). Their goal was to secure suffrage for the women of Maine and they also endorsed the temperance movement. Three years later, Cordelia was elected the group's first woman president, holding this post until 1891. The MSWA held annual conventions to develop strategies necessary to increase membership and raise money. They were active in supporting local communities to organize their own suffrage groups and worked to educate the public about women's suffrage. The MSWA lobbied actively at the state capitol in Augusta and, when legislators were in session, the group ensured that legislators received hundreds of petitions, signed by thousands, in support of their women's rights agenda. In this period Quinby often served as a delegate from the MWSA at annual conventions of the National Woman Suffrage Association.

In 1880, the Maine legislature changed the law regarding who could serve on the Board of Trustees for the Maine State Insane Hospital. Of the six trustees, one now had to be a woman. Many "good friends" of the institution were opposed to this change believing that the efficiency of the board would be lessened if women were allowed to serve as members. Despite these dissenting opinions, then Governor Plaisted appointed Cordelia to the board in 1883. This complemented her work as a prominent philanthropist and advanced her work for women's rights. After her three years of service, former Governor Plaisted wrote that she had served with "great acceptance" and, in that time, she was able to break down the prejudices against appointing women to such positions.

In addition to her broad range of accomplishments, Cordelia joined her husband, George, in the fight against capital punishment. They saw their work for this cause become to fruition when, in 1887, the death penalty in Maine was abolished. They hoped that their success in Maine would lead to the eventual elimination of the death penalty in every other state as well.

Cordelia died in Missouri on February 1, 1925. She was ninety-one years old. She is buried in her home state of Maine.


Find a Grave, database and images, (accessed July 2021), memorial page formCordelia Adaline Brooks Quinby (25 Dec 1933-1 Feb 1925) Find a Grave Memorial ID no. 118941758, citing Evergreen Cemetery, Portland, Cumberland County, Maine, USA; Maintained by Sally-Midcoast Maine (contributor #48138595)

Hanaford, Phebe Ann. Daughters of America: Or, Women of the Century. B.B. Russell. 1883. Google Books, Accessed 10 July 2021.

"Maine State Museum," The Maine Story: The Maine Woman Suffrage Association (E-newsletter), 2021.

Report of the Association for the Advancement of Women: 19th Women's Congress. C.W. Bardeen, Publisher and Printer, Syracuse, New York. 1892. Google Books, Accessed 10 July 2021.

Shannon M. Risk, "'In Order to Establish Justice': The Nineteenth-Century Woman Suffrage Movements of Maine and New Brunswick" (Unpub. Ph.D. diss., University of Maine, 2009). Accessible online at

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