Pauline Adams

Pauline Adams (1874-1957)

Taking a militant approach to the campaign for woman suffrage, Pauline Adams chose to go to prison for her political beliefs.

The formidable woman suffrage activist Pauline Forstall Colclough Adams (June 29, 1874–September 10, 1957) was born in Dublin, Ireland, and in 1898 settled in Norfolk, Virginia. She was an advocate of Esperanto, a constructed international auxiliary language.

On November 18, 1910, the Norfolk Equal Suffrage League was organized during a meeting at her home. Adams served as the league's first president. Unlike her fellow Virginia suffragists, she advocated a militant approach to winning the vote for women. She shunned educational activities to speak in the city's streets and march in Washington, D.C., during President Woodrow Wilson's inaugural parade. Her actions prompted a rift in the conservative Norfolk league and a reprimand from state league headquarters in Richmond. She invented two popular suffrage games (now lost), Politics and Political Auction, which were sold in Virginia and Maryland in 1913 to raise funds for suffrage work.

Adams joined the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage—a more militant group renamed the National Woman's Party in 1916—and served as president of the Norfolk branch from 1917 to 1920. She was one of thirteen picketers arrested for attempting to "flaunt their banners" in front of Woodrow Wilson's reviewing stand before a Selective Service parade on September 4, 1917. The suffragists chose prison over a $25 fine and were sent to the workhouse at Occoquan, in Fairfax County, where Adams spent time in solitary confinement deprived of her blanket, hairbrush, and toothbrush.

After passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in August 1920, Adams looked for new challenges. She passed the bar examination in 1921 and became the second woman to practice law in Norfolk. Adams remained involved in the political arena where she had fought so hard to win a place. She ran unsuccessfully for the city council and worked for the campaign of Norfolk's Sarah Lee Fain, one of the first two women elected to the House of Delegates in 1923.

READ Adams' letters to her son Walter while in prison for supporting women's suffrage. What were her prison conditions? Did her actions justify the treatment she and others received?
Pauline Forstall Colclough Adams Wrote to Her Son from Prison, 30 September 1917
September 30th letter transcription

Pauline Adams wrote to her son Walter from prison, 23 October 1917
October 23rd letter transcription

LEARN about the suffrage movement and the addition of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution.

Images courtesy of the Library of Virginia

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