Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890 - 1920

Biography of Adella Maxwell Brown, 1868-1945

By Harold Colson, Librarian, University of California, San Diego

Adella ("Ada") Maxwell was born in Wooster, Ohio, on March 27, 1868, to Civil War veteran John H. Maxwell and Althea (Burr) Maxwell. The family at that time included an older daughter, Statta Maxwell (1865-1953), and eventually welcomed sons George Thomas (1872-1945) and Hugh Edward (1876-1934) Maxwell.

Miss Maxwell grew up in Alexis, Mercer County, Illinois, attended Monmouth College, completed teacher certification, and taught in rural schools. She married Harrison Munro Brown on June 6, 1894. The couple resided in Alexis before settling permanently in Peoria, where Harrison rose as a salesman and executive in a local crockery firm. Available sources do not indicate the Browns had children.

Adella was active for several years in the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association and held leadership positions in the Peoria chapter and the state-level organization.

On April 10, 1912, about 75 women associated with various clubs met in the Assembly Room of Peoria City Hall to organize the local chapter, with a committee of five working to draft a constitution and nominate a slate of officers. Two meetings during the next week sealed the founding and Mrs. Brown was elected as the original chapter president. (A local reporter hailed her as "a conspicuous worker in the Peoria Women's Club" with "sane, progressive" suffrage ideas.) Gearing up quickly, on April 19 Mrs. Brown and other local suffragists greeted an arriving Chicago-area contingent (led by Catharine Waugh McCulloch) that sought a renewed suffrage plank from the state Democratic delegates convening that day in Peoria. (The attempt failed.)

The new Peoria organization soon affiliated with the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association and by the fall of 1912 Adella was superintendent of church organizations at the state level.

The 1915 city "blue book" history and directory profile of Peoria Equal Suffrage Association claims that under Brown's leadership the young chapter "began to take an active part in the campaign for suffrage, securing more names in proportion to population than any other city in the state for the [1912] public policy petition to bring equal suffrage before the legislature." Peoria welcomed Illinois Equal Suffrage Association president Grace Wilbur Trout for a public address on March 17, 1913.

Peoria unit civic work in 1914 included an instruction school to teach women, in a non-partisan manner, the methods of voting. This "energetic" campaign included numerous speeches, ward meetings, and visits to every polling place, with over 400 women registered along the way. (The Peoria "blue book" account credits the major part of the campaign work to Adella and two other chapter women, who also petitioned the local commissioners to use churches and school buildings as polling places instead some of the "undesirable" and "carelessly managed" sites used before.) The voting campaign was repeated in 1915, a year that also marked the reelection of Mrs. Brown as Peoria chapter president.

The state association had convened in Peoria in 1913, the year of a partial suffrage law in Illinois. Adella was elected second vice-president, thereby becoming the first woman from the city to hold an executive position on the Illinois board. (The 1913 convention program also credits her with a talk on suffrage organizing in towns.) Re-elected as state second vice-president in 1914, her rapid rise within the organization continued when, during the 1915 convention in Peoria, she was elected, unopposed, as state president for the upcoming term. (Incumbent president Trout had declined to be a candidate for reelection.) A Peoria newspaper touted Mrs. Brown as "the logical successor" to Trout, being directly in line as a vice president and the "strongest available possibility" for the state presidency. A Chicago reporter said she "classes as one of the most adept, skillful, and diplomatic politicians among the women who have fought for the vote in Illinois."

Brown's state-level presidential term saw continued efforts in Illinois to achieve full suffrage and also coincided with major party political conventions in advance of the 1916 national elections. The Republican convention was held in Chicago and she chaired the organizing committee for the National Woman Suffrage Parade, held on June 7, 1916. She also journeyed to St. Louis as part of the Illinois suffragist presence during the Democratic convention, praising how the state contingent assisted in carrying the Golden Lane demonstration to "successful fruition" as thousands of delegates passed by. (Both parties adopted suffrage planks.)

The month before the national party conventions Mrs. Brown attended the Mississippi Valley Suffrage Conference in Minneapolis, where she spoke as part of a symposium on "the woman vote" in Illinois. According to meeting reports in the suffragist press, Brown said that, after the state's women obtained their franchise, municipal cleanliness in streets and alleys received much attention, school facilities and programs improved, and more than 1,000 saloons were closed.

Her state report for the 48th NAWSA convention in Atlantic City also noted that the 1916 opportunity and "thing most needed" in Illinois had been "careful educational work carried on by capable organizers" to gain "sympathetic understanding and staunch moral support of the women of the state as a whole." This "energetic" campaign achieved considerable growth in affiliated societies and members, she reported, and large in-state conferences also increased "suffrage enthusiasm" in communities.

Brown's Illinois Equal Suffrage Association presidency lasted one term, but she continued her suffrage activity in 1917 as a director within the state organization and as a downstate leader in the Woman's Emergency League campaign drive. She was also among several Illinois "Congressional Aides" designated by the Congressional Committee of NAWSA.

For many years she made civic contributions through women's clubs organizations at the local, state, and national level. One major achievement was her 1922 election as Director from Illinois of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, headquartered in Washington, DC.

During World War I she served on the Woman's Committee of the Illinois State Council of Defense. Brown and other prominent suffragists and club women participated in 1918 on an advisory committee to the Illinois Highway Improvement Association, supporting a good roads bond issue. She was also a downstate member of the general citizens' committee for the ratification of the proposed 1922 state constitution, which was rejected by Illinois voters.

Adella Maxwell Brown passed away in Long Beach, California, on February 21, 1945. She is buried next to her husband Harrison (1869-1937) in Alexis Cemetery, Alexis, Illinois.

Adella Maxwell Brown / Mrs. Harrison M. Brown


Adella Maxwell Brown / Mrs. Harrison M. Brown

Image: Program of Women's Activities during Convention Week beginning June 5, 1916. Chicago: Woman's Association of Commerce, 1916.


Maxwell Birth Record, March 27, 1868, Wooster, Wayne County, Ohio County Births, 1841-2003.

"Mrs. Maxwell Died Yesterday," The Monmouth Daily Atlas, June 26, 1916, p. 5.

Adella Maxwell in household of John H. Maxwell, Viola, Mercer County, Illinois, "United States Census, 1870," database with images, FamilySearch.

Ada Maxwell in household of Van R. Harriott, Viola, Mercer County, Illinois, "United States Census, 1880," database with images, FamilySearch.

Ada Brown in household of Harrison Brown, Spring Grove Township, Alexis, Warren County, Illinois, "United States Census, 1900," database with images, FamilySearch.

Ada Brown in household of Harrison M. Brown, Peoria, Peoria County, Illinois,

"United States Census, 1910," database with images, FamilySearch.

Adella M. Brown in household of Harrison M. Brown, Peoria, Peoria County, Illinois, "United States Census, 1920," database with images, FamilySearch.

Adella M. Brown in household of Harrison M. Brown, Peoria, Peoria County, Illinois, "United States Census, 1930," database with images, FamilySearch

Adella M. Brown, Peoria, Peoria County, Illinois, "United States Census, 1940," database with images, FamilySearch.

"Warren County Pedagogues," The Republican Atlas-Advance (Monmouth, Illinois), July 21, 1893, p. 4.

"Mrs. H. M. Brown Dies in California; Rites Wednesday," Peoria Journal Star, February 25, 1945, p. D3.

"Funeral Held for Former Alexis Citizen," The Alexis Argus, March 1, 1945, p. 1.

[Harrison M. Brown death notice], The Alexis Argus, April 22, 1937, p. 5.

"H. M. Brown, of Old Firm, Dies at Age of 68," Peoria Star, April 20, 1937, p. 9.

Record for Maxwell, Flora Adella, Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, 1763-1900, Office of the Illinois Secretary of State.

"Sixteen Womens' Clubs Aid New Suffrage Move," Peoria Herald-Transcript, April 12, 1912, p. 4.

"Struggle is Brewing Between Two Equal Suffrage Factions Seeking to Control Election," Peoria Herald-Transcript, April 14, 1912, p. 3.

"Women Suffragists Are Given Ovation," Peoria Star, April 19, 1912.

Peoria of To-Day with Peoria Blue Book Directory, 1915 / edited by Edward L. Richter. Chicago: National Writers of History, 1915.

"Suffrage Association Selects New Officers," The Rock Island Argus, October 3, 1912, p. 1.

Press Bulletin / Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, vol. 3, no. 2 (January-February 1915), p. 2.

"Illinois Suffrage Workers Planning for State Convention," Chicago Tribune, September 7, 1913, p. 32.

"Suffrage Meet Program Is Out," The Rock Island Argus, October 24, 1913, p. 16.

"Mrs. Trout Wins on Every Point," Chicago Tribune, November 9, 1913, p. 6.

"Suffragists End Annual Meeting," Bureau County Tribune (Princeton, Illinois), November 6, 1914, p. 11.

"Mrs. Harrison Brown Urged as Suffrage Association Head," Jacksonville Daily Journal, September 23, 1915, p. 2, quoting Peoria Transcript.

"Mrs. H. M. Brown Named Illinois Suffragists' Head," St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 29, 1915, p. 12.

"Full Suffrage, No Other Issue, Plan of Women," Chicago Tribune, October 29, 1915, p. 3.

"Mrs. Adella M. Brown, New State President, Reaches Chicago and Plunges into Work" Chicago Examiner, November 2, 1915, p. 13.

"National Woman Suffrage Parade," [display ad], Chicago Tribune, June 4, 1916, p. 49.

Program of Women's Activities during Convention Week beginning June 5, 1916. Chicago: Woman's Association of Commerce, 1916.

"Special on Alton," The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), June 10, 1916, p. 5.

"The Mississippi Valley Suffrage Conference," Woman's Journal and Suffrage News, vol. 47, no. 17 (April 22, 1916), p. 131.

"Mississippi Valley Notes," Woman's Journal and Suffrage News, vol. 47, no. 21 (May 20, 1916), p. 164.

"Echoes from the Big Conference," Woman's Journal and Suffrage News, vol. 47, no. 21 (May 20, 1916), p. 162.

Proceedings of the Forty-Eighth Annual Convention (Atlantic City, NJ, 1916) / North American Woman Suffrage Association.

"Illinois's Campaign Drive," The Woman Citizen, vol. 1, no. 13 (August 25, 1917), p. 231.

"Statewide Campaign for Election in 1918," Decatur Daily Review (Decatur, Illinois) August 29, 1917, p. 10.

"Peoria Woman Made Director of Woman Clubs," Chicago Tribune, May 26, 1922, p. 18.

See her report as General Federation Director for Illinois in the 1922/23 directory and yearbook of the Illinois Federation of Women's Clubs:

Final report of the State Council of Defense of Illinois, 1917-1918-1919.

"Women War Conference," Nashville Journal (Nashville, Illinois), June 13, 1918, p. 1.

"Illinois Women Doing Good Work," The Road-Maker, vol. 12, no. 3 (March 1918), p. 67.

Laura K. Kennedy, "Illinois Women for the Big Bond Issue," The Road-Maker, vol. 12, no. 8 (August 1918), p. 17.

"Names Committees for Constitution," The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois), November 22, 1922, p. 7.

Certificate of Death, Adella N. Brown [sic], California, County Birth and Death Records, 1800-1994.

Find A Grave memorials:

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