Agnes Adams

Quick Facts
clubwoman and activist
Place of Birth:
Baltimore, Maryland
Date of Birth:
Place of Death:
Baltimore, Maryland
Date of Death:

Remembered as a remarkable public speaker, Agnes J. Adams actively participated in the Black clubwomen's movement and other Boston organizations dedicated to racial justice.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Agnes Adams grew up within the Methodist church community and worked as a teacher.1 Married briefly, Adams moved to Boston with her young son after her husband's death.2

Agnes Adams quickly became involved in local Black women's organizations, joining the Woman's Era Club of Boston. A leader of this club, she often spoke at meetings and other events as a representative of the club. Adams worked alongside other club members to organize the 1895 First National Conference of Colored Women of America. During this event she gave a powerful speech on "Social Purity." Historian Hallie Quinn Brown noted that her address had been so moving that "from that time on Mrs. Adams was regarded by circles, clubs and federations as invaluable in all altruistic movements."3

With her work in the Woman's Era Club, Agnes Adams supported Black women using their voices to make positive change. She took interest in a variety of movements, including the women's suffrage and anti-lynching movements. In an 1899 suffrage meeting in the West End neighborhood, Adams encouraged Black women to register to vote and to "[take] an interest in school suffrage."4 Agnes Adams also joined other club members and local Black leaders in meetings that discussed how to address the lynching crisis in the United States. Together, they formed committees to take action on the crisis and bring it to the attention of the people of Boston.5

In the early 1900s, Agnes Adams continued to partake in many civil rights and political events in Boston's Black community. She attended and spoke at several events that remembered early abolitionists and reformers including Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Brown. While commemorative, these events allowed speakers to draw parallels between abolition and the current civil rights struggles—discrimination and lynching—of African Americans. At Garrison's centenary events, Agnes Adams reflected this sentiment:

I cannot help feeling that if William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips and those other men could come here today they would be dreadfully pained and shocked to find what a revolution on the race question has taken place in the short time of forty years. But, my friends, though oppression and injustice stalk about the land, I sometimes think that retribution may be coming apace with a strong, avenging hand.6

During this era, Adams also joined the Boston Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Northeastern Federation of Women's Clubs, and, later, the League of Women for Community Service.7

In 1922, Adams moved back to Baltimore after the death of her brother. She died a year later.8

In memorializing her life, Hallie Quinn Brown wrote:

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. Uusually [sic] they are ordinary, everyday women...saved from obscurity by that spirit of service which transfigures and glorifies.9


  1. The 1920 Census confirms her residence in Boston, as well as her place and date of birth. 1920 Census Record, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, Boston City Ward 7, District 0206, sheet 3B.
  2. Hallie Quinn Brown, Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction (Xenia, Ohio: Aldine Publishing Company, 1926), 200-204.
  3. Brown, Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction, 202.
  4. Massachusetts women had won the right to vote in school committee elections in 1879. "Colored Women Appealed To," Boston Herald, November 17, 1899.
  5. Those involved included Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Florida Ridley, Eliza Gardner, Arianna Sparrow, Butler Wilson, Clement Morgan, Emory Morris, and others. Agnes Adams served on the Committee on Petition, the Committee to Communicate with Clergy, and the Committee on Pastors and Placards. The results of these committees are unclear. See The Woman’s Era Vol 1, no. 4 (July 1894).
  6. “The Celebration of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of William Lloyd Garrison, by the Colored Citizens of Greater Boston,” Suffrage League of Boston and Vicinity (Boston, 1906),
  7. Brown, 200-204; League of Women for Community Service Records. Records, 1918-1938. B/L434, Vols. 1-3. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. Volume 1,$1i.
  8. Brown, 200-204.
  9. Brown, 204.

Boston National Historical Park, Boston African American National Historic Site

Last updated: January 18, 2024