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  --  1853-1886   Table of Contents     SUSIE I. LANKFORD SHORTER
  --  January 4, 1859--February 27, 1912

Brown, Hallie Q.
Homespun heroines

- AGNES JONES ADAMS -- 1858--1923


Mrs. Adams, a native of Baltimore, Md., was a member of a family there well-known and highly respected. She received the usual training afforded by the city public schools, and in addition being studiously inclined and being associated with cultured persons, her ambition incited her to gain proficiency in some of the higher subjects of learning.

In early womanhood she joined the Methodist Church and became a devoted church worker. She adopted the profession of day school teacher and besides discharging her regular duties did welfare work as opportunity offered. In an unassuming way she continued active and absorbed until her marriage. Her wedded life though happy was brief. While yet a young woman she found herself responsible for the rearing of a son, her only child. This led her to remove to Boston, Mass., that the lad might have all the advantages of an atmosphere conductive to normal, unhampered development.

In this new home she did not remain long unnoticed; for through church and social affiliations many shortly came to know her and to learn of her worth. Her estimable qualities of mind and heart caused acquaintances to become admirers, then friends, according her an affectionate regard. A race devotion won for her a conspicuous place among those working for race uplift. She joined the Women's Era Club, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and similar organizations. Useful, steadfast, led by the highest convictions of duty

she in time attained prominence among a group of women drawn toward her like aspirations.

In July, 1895, the "National Federation of Colored Women" held its preliminary session at Boston. The Women's Era Club as hostess naturally took the lead, issuing the call, arranging the program, and, through the indefatigable exertions of its executive board, making a signal success of what in some of its phases had of the necessity the nature of an experiment.

The body of our women has expanded normally with garnered experience, and, with accessions of superior women, today it stands for an impelling force of great magnitude. Its successive biennial sessions have been graced and vitalized by the wit, culture and wisdom of countless self-sacrificing members, loyal to keen apprehensions of duty and responsive to the finest impulses inciting human activity. The meetings like mile-stone, have outlined the progress of American colored women along the path of upward trend. All the gatherings have been significant, many of them notable; everything taken into consideration, the initial one may be designated as the most famous.

The pressing urgency of a coming together for conference was made clearly apparent by the circulation abroad of a scurrilous letter. This offensive document was designed to arouse animosity and to accentuate race hatred. It bore evidence of a lack of appreciation both of truth and justice and marked its author with the unenviable reputation of lacking in chivalry and honor, of being afflicted with that dense ignorance upon which insensate race prejudice is founded.

On the second day of this meeting of protest Mrs. Adams presided. She delivered a fervent opening prayer and then took up the subject allotted for consideration. It was the delicate yet pregnant theme of "Social Purity." This she treated in detail with reserve and care yet with firmness and clarity; her utterances were followed with closest attention. Before this she had attained a reputation

locally as a well-informed logical speaker with a pleasing address. In this latest venture, gripping as she did the interest of women from fifteen states--many of whom were ready popular speakers, she received a baptism as an ardent eloquent advocate of every endeavor to develop our womanhood and to extend concerted action in "forlorn effort" to secure for them the chance so often ruthlessly denied to them. From that time on Mrs. Adams was regarded by circles, clubs and federations as invaluable in all altruistic movements. No one has ever spoken more convincingly than she in behalf of that contingent of Americans than whom none have ever made a more uniform record for patriotism, than whom none have ever been treated by the powers that be with greater ingratitude through a callous ignoring of the common justice certainly their due.

The earnestness and enthusiasm aroused by Mrs. Adams kindled a lofty spirit of devotion and loyalty in the hearts and intentions of her auditors, that has never been allowed to die out. Remaining active it has intensified and helped others to aid in the accomplishment of the ulterior object of her speech--the amelioration of the condition of colored women by securing for them that fair play which enables any accused to defend himself against treachery, snap-judgment and wholesale incriminations.

To this woman belong the honor of, at a most critical time, the time when she and women of the same descent were publicly and brutally attacked, of voicing an unanswerable appeal to justice, culture and civilization. And her heroism in "standing on the breach," without stopping to count the cost in her endeavor to right a flagrant wrong, entitles her to the highest praise for fidelity and fearlessness.

The conference fully demonstrated the wisdom and efficacy of a national "getting together." The advantages of council were briefly and clearly outlined in the thoughtful address of the president, Mrs. J. St. P. Ruffin. She

emphasized the necessity for so doing for both women in general and our women especially. The latter she described touchingly as "those who were bearing peculiar burdens, suffering untold hardships, enduring oppressive provocations."

With a seriousness at once pathetic and dignified, Mrs. Ruffin struck the keynote of the intention of the gathering: "It is meet, right and our bounden duty to teach an ignorant suspicious world that our aims are identical with those of all good aspiring women. With an army of organized women standing for purity and mental worth we open the eyes of the world to a state of affairs to which they have been blind, often wilfully so. We break silence not by noisy protestations of what we are not, but by a dignified showing of what we are and what we hope to become."

The ultimate result was the formation of a sisterhood in which Agnes Adams and others like her found congenial work. This included the establishment of reforms, the cementing of bonds of unity, the defense of the dignity of our women, and the refutation of unjust and unfair accusations--charges often so audaciously and flippantly made and of so humiliating a sort they tended virtually "to force the accused into a mortified silence, especially in sections where the scales of fair play and verity are not evenly balanced."

In July, 1922, the death of a brother recalled Mrs. Adams to her former home. While there she decided to make her birthplace again her abiding place, and so resolving took up again in a near by village the work of teaching. The April following, attacked by a serious illness she succumbed in a few days.

Her life work was unfinished only in seeming, her influence is still paramount as a guidance to those who knew her and loved her, those who, still active and inspired by her lowly spirit but lofty aim are striving to emulate her unselfish, courageous example.

Mrs. Adams thought, decided, acted from a conviction

she had something definite to do in the strenuous endeavor to uplift while she essayed to climb. This made her vigilant, patriotic and steadfast toward those with whom she was allied by sex and race extraction. Good women like Agnes Adams have a value not to be estimated. And of such women among us countless numbers are in daily evidence. Usually they are ordinary, everyday women, wage-earners, bread-winners or home conservers, saved from obscurity by that spirit of service which transfigures and glorifies. To know of such is indeed a "liberal education." It leads to the basic conclusion that what a woman thinks of herself, does for herself and with herself, may be the silent but effective means of aiding character development in many others less fortunately situated.

"For us is the seed time, God alone
Beholds the end of what is sown;
Beyond our visions weak or dim,
The harvest time is hid with Him.
Left unforgotten where it lies,
The seed of generous sacrifice
Though seeming on a desert cast
Shall rise and bloom with truth at last."

  --  1853-1886   Table of Contents     SUSIE I. LANKFORD SHORTER
  --  January 4, 1859--February 27, 1912