EMMA (LEE) ADAMS (1851 – 1941)
Governor Jewett William Adams (1883 – 1886)
The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.
At A Glance:
Born: Nov.7, 1851 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania*
Died: March 20, 1941, in San Francisco, California
Burial: Coloma, San Mateo County, Calif.
Maiden Name: Emma Lee
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Married: Jan. 16, 1878 in Texas
Children: Frances Rhys (adopted daughter)
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Carson City, Nevada and San Francisco, Calif.
Major Fields of Work: First Lady, anti-suffrage leader in Nevada
Other Role Identities: Wife, Mother
Former First Lady led other women to oppose suffrage
After fulfilling her position as First Lady of Nevada, Emma Lee Adams went on to organize opposition to women’s suffrage in the months preceding the state referendum in 1914 in which the state’s male electorate gave women the vote. In her stance, she enlisted many prominent women that she had met during her husband’s service as lieutenant governor and governor.
Little is known of Emma Lee’s formative years. She was the daughter of Uriah Milton Lee and Lucia E. Munsell Lee.
*Although both New York and Philadelphia, Penn., are given in various census documents as her birth place, no known state, church or Bible entry has been found to definitely settle this question. Thus, both states appear on her various biographies. Emma’s 1940 census entry, her 1924 passport application, which she had to swear to under penalty of perjury, as well as her funeral home information given by her daughter, lend credence to Pennsylvania as her birthplace. Daughters of the American Revolution information, however, notes New York. Until further research is uncovered, NWHP has chosen Philadelphia as her birthplace. We welcome further documentation by readers.
What is definitely known, however, is that Emma was living with her parents, who had moved to Corsicana, Texas in 1870, at the time she met her future husband, Jewett Adams. He was on a cattle-buying trip to Texas. They were married on Jan. 16, 1878, when she was 26 and he was 42. Jewett Adams was then serving as lieutenant governor of Nevada and later won a second term in that post. His tenures spanned the years 1875-1882 under Governors Bradley and Kinkead. He was then elected Nevada’s fifth governor and served from 1883 to 1886.
Emma Adams was touted as “a refined lady who was in every way fitted to ornament the executive mansion and whose widespread popularity throughout the state was only matched by that of her husband,” wrote B.F. Miller in his account, “Nevada in the Making,” published in the Nevada Historical Society Papers.
After the governorship, Jewett Adams served as superintendent of the U.S. Mint in Carson City from 1894 to 1898. In the late 1890s, he formed a lucrative partnership with William McGill that owned and operated a large cattle and sheep ranch in Nye County.
In 1891, Emma Adams joined the wife of U.S. Senator William Stewart in a movement to erect a statue to Mary Washington, mother of George Washington. The Adams family, including adopted daughter Frances, embarked on a world tour in October 1912.
In 1914, Emma Adams was elected unanimously as president of the Carson City chapter of a national women’s group, the Nevada Association of Women Opposed to Equal Suffrage. A newspaper article reporting her election stated, “Mrs. Adams has a very large acquaintance throughout the state and a very large circle of warm personal friends in Reno. It is also stated that the election of Mrs. Adams was strongly urged and warmly supported by the members.” In a roster printed in the newspaper, every woman holding an office in the organization was listed by her husband’s name except for an unmarried woman. Among the 11 officers was Mrs. Frank Bell (Mary Poor), the wife of Nevada’s sixth governor, who had served as acting governor from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, 1890.
In an National Public Radio report in 2015, Corrine McConnaughy, a George Washington University political science teacher and author of “The Woman Suffrage Movement in America: A reassessment,” published in 2013, said that the female leaders of the U.S. anti-suffrage campaign, “were generally women of wealth, privilege, social status and even political power.” The description would seem to fit the profile of Emma Adams in Nevada and her friends.
By July 1914, the Carson City group had an enrollment of 260 women. The group hosted a nationally known anti-suffragist, Miss Minnie Bronson of New York City, on Nov. 1, 1914. Later that month, on Nov. 29, Bronson spoke in the Nevada Theater in Tonopah, accompanied by Emma Adams. After the talk, there was an encounter with “agitators who had taken exception to Miss Bronson’s address gathered about her at the stage door in a demonstrative way attempted to heckle and harass the speaker. “ Two citizens, including the attorney who had presided at the meeting, escorted Bronson from the building, reported the Reno Evening Gazette. A half hour after the meeting’s end, the building was ablaze and 14 other buildings were destroyed.
In a retrospective article published in 1947 by the Nevada State Journal, it was stated that leaders of the national anti-suffrage movement, including Minnie Bronson, toured the state in style. “In contrast with the hardships of travel to remote places endured by the loyal workers for suffrage and the economic problems always to be solved, the speakers for the ‘antis’ visited only the large towns, were provided with every obtainable luxury and the meetings were remarkably well advertised and arranged.”
In her Oct. 17, 1914 response to an editorial in the Reno Evening Gazette, Adams wrote that “in no man-suffrage state in this county is any woman taxed. Men are taxed, dogs are taxed, mules are taxed, but woman are exempt from taxation. In the suffrage states there seems a tendency to remove this exemption and reducing women to the level of men, bring them into the taxed class.”
She continued to write that men also are required “to give personal service in jury duty, to aid in the suppression of riots, and the arrest of law breakers, and military service when the country requires or demands. Women have always been exempt from these taxes in man-suffrage states, although, in women suffrage states, the opening wedge has been entered in the jury service.”
On Oct. 31, 1914, days before the statewide vote on suffrage, Emma Adams predicted the outcome would be at least 2,500 votes against the amendment. History records that the amendment was passed in Nevada on Nov. 3, 1914, in 12 of 16 counties. Opposed were Eureka, Ormsby, Storey and Washoe counties.
The year after the defeat in Nevada, Jewett and Emma Adams moved to live in San Francisco in 1915. She led a life of travel to Europe, Egypt and South America, and social and committee activities. An elaborate luncheon in her honor was held at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco in April 1915. In 1917, she gave a bridge party in their California Street apartment for the Jefferson Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy auxiliary to benefit the San Francisco Chapter of the Red Cross. In 1918, as secretary for the California Preparedness Chapter, she and other members opened a home club for military men in San Francisco. Their daughter Frances, married to George H. Corse, and the couple’s two daughters often visited Emma in her apartment, and the family also traveled together.
In May 1915, Adams welcomed the public as the official hostess for the Nevada state building at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
Jewett Adams died on June 18, 1920 at age 84, in San Francisco. Emma died 21 years later, on March 20, 1941, in San Francisco and is buried in Colma, Calif., with Jewett. Her will established a University of Nevada scholarship fund of approximately $40,000 honoring Jewett Adams.
Researched and written by Patti Bernard and written by Janice Hoke. Posted to NWHP Website June, 2018.
Sources of Information:
- Austin American-Statesman, Austin, Texas. Jan. 19, 1878, p3:1. Newspapers.com
- “Honors to Mrs. Washington.” Morning Appeal, Carson City, Nev. Jan. 30, 1891, p3:1. Newspapers.com
- “Former Governor and Mrs. Jewett Adams and daughter Francis of Carson City…” Nevada State Journal, Society page, Oct. 27, 1912, p:2.
- “They Organize Against Equal Suffrage Plan.” 1914. Newspapers.com
- “Women Will Oppose Vote.” Reno Evening Gazette. May 27, 1914. P:8.
- “Mrs. Adams Shows Women Not Taxed.” Reno Evening Gazette. Oct. 17, 1914, p:4. Newspapers.com
- “Suffrage Outlook Good in Four States.” Lincoln Journal Star, (Lincoln, Neb.), p:9. Newspapers.com
- “I.W.W. Put Flames to Buildings and Hoist,” Reno Evening Gazette, Nov. 12, 1914, p:1. Newspapers.com
- “Luncheon at Fairmont.” Oakland Tribune, (Oakland Calif.), p:8. Newspapers.com
- “To Help Receive Nevada’s Guests.” Reno Evening Gazette, April 19, 1915, p:1.
- “Women’s Page-Nevada state building at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition is gaining…” Nevada State Journal [Reno] 16 May 1915, p:7.
- “Card Party.” San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 23, 1917, p:7. Newspapers.com
- “Comfortable Home Club Opened and Made Attractive For Service Men.” San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 8, 1918, p:12. Newspapers.com
- “Mrs. Jewett Adams, who is leaving shortly.” San Francisco Chronicle, May 8, 1914, p:14. Newspapers.com
- “Hongkong Folk Entertained Here.” San Francisco Chronicle . May 20, 1923, p:3. Newspapers.com
- “News of Carson Given in Brief- Mrs. J.T. Davis and Mrs. Jewett Adams well known former residents of this city…” Reno Evening Gazette,. Aug. 28, 1929, p:6. Newspapers.com
- “Nevada in the Making.” Nevada State Historical Papers 1923-1984, Nevada State Historical Society, Reno, Nevada, 1924, p. 416.
- “Wife of Former Governor Dies.” Nevada State Journal [Reno]. March 26, 1941, p:15.
- “Fund Granted In Adams Will.” Nevada State Journal [Reno]. March 28, 1941, p:10.
- “$40,000 Scholarship Fund In Memory of Governor Adams Given to Nevada by Widow.” Nevada State Journal [Reno]. May 27, 1941, p:20.
- “Gifts, Bequests To University Listed During Commencement.” Nevada State Journal [Reno], May 14,1941, p: 3.
- “Ex-Nevada Governor’s Estate Tops $351.00.00,” Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Calif.), Nov. 8,1941, p: 17.
- “Campaign of 1914 For Adoption Of Suffrage Amendment Lively: Leader reviews Nevada vote for women.” Nevada State Journal [Reno] Oct. 16, 1947, p:17.
- Myles, Myrtle Tate. “Jewett William Adams.” Nevada’s Governors: From Territorial Days to the Present, 1861-1971. Sparks, NV: Western Printing & Publishing Company, 1972: 32-34.
- Sawyer, Bette. “Nevada’s 100 Years of First Ladies.” Nevada Centennial Magazine. 1964: p. 126.
- Nylen, Robert A., and Guy Louis Rocha. “Emma (Lee) Adams.” State of Nevada: The Historical Governor’s Mansion. Carson City, Nevada: Dema Guinn, The Nevada Commission on Tourism.
- “American Women Who Were Anti-Suffragettes.” NPR History Dept. Oct. 22, 2015. www.npr.org.