Suffragette and clubwoman Sadie L. Adams’ name only appears in the pages of the Chicago Daily News a handful of times throughout her life, but from those dozen or so mentions, it’s clear she packed a lot into her days.
Take for example this brief story, which ran on Oct. 22, 1931:
“A mile of dimes is the goal St. Edmund’s Episcopal church, 5831 Indiana avenue, has set for its members in a drive to raise funds for a new parish house. Members of the women’s guild and auxiliary, lunching the drive under the direction of Mrs. Sadie L. Adams, president of the organization, are sending to each parishioner a miniature stocking just large enough to hold dimes. Five thousand two hundred and eighty feet of dimes are sought.“
Unfortunately, the Daily News never published an update on the fundraiser, but Adams’ great-granddaughters, Tina and Lisa Finch, said such an activity would have been just like her.
"Our legacy for our family has been about service and social action,” Tina Finch said, “and Sadie certainly was part of social action. I think that was who she was and then we saw it in our grandmother and our mother, and then Lisa and I are both active with community ventures as well.”
Adams, who died this week on July 30, 1945, came to Chicago with her husband, James Purnell Adams, from Baltimore in 1910, Lisa Finch said. She became involved with Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s Alpha Suffrage Club
and served as both secretary and vice president. After women won the right to vote in local elections in Illinois in 1914, Adams became one of the first women to serve on an elections board, according to the Iowa State University’s Archives of Women’s Political Communication
. In 1920, after the 19th Amendment passed, she attended the first League of Women Voters meeting. At that time, Adams worshipped at Saint Thomas Episcopal Church but later transferred to St. Edmund’s probably around the time the Daily News article was published.
St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church, of course, has a long, storied history in Chicago as it’s the oldest Black Episcopalian parish in the city. Its first services were held in 1905 in a basement at 55th Street and South Wabash Avenue, according to the parish’s history book, ”Behind the Red Doors
.“ Back then, it was called the "Washington Park Mission,” led by Rev. George DeMing Wright. The following year, the group changed its name to “St. Edmund’s Mission” and moved to the second floor of the Citizen’s Trust and Savings Bank at 55th and State streets.
Three years later, the church moved to the Indiana Avenue location mentioned in the Daily News article and held its first service on Easter Sunday. “Behind the Red Doors” described the building as “a simple structure of stucco and brick.” At the time, most of the congregants were white, but as more Black men and women from the South came to Chicago during the Great Migration, many of those white families left the community. As a result, more of the newly arrived Black families began attending services. On July 1, 1928, the first service of the new mission was officially held. More than 300 people turned out to support the new Black-majority congregation. Two decades later, the mission, still going strong, moved into its current location at 6105 S. Michigan Ave.
Adams stayed active in St. Edmund’s throughout her life, her great-granddaughters said. During the Great Depression, she worked with food pantries to keep the community fed, and when World War II broke out, she worked on projects to help the war effort as her son, James Cornelius Adams, was serving in the military.
After Adams passed in 1945, her family continued to attend services at St. Edmund’s. As children, Tina and Lisa Finch heard plenty of stories about their great-grandmother’s work with St. Edmund’s, the Alpha Suffrage Club and the war effort. With all her activities, Adams rarely had time to cook, but she did teach her daughter how to make biscuits, Tina Finch said. She was also a great dresser and likely took part in plenty of church luncheons and teas.
“She wasn’t a thin lady. She had a bulk about her so I know she enjoyed eating the food she liked,” Tina Finch recalled. “She enjoyed socializing.”
St. Edmund’s still welcomes parishioners today and continues to recover from disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tina Finch said. Her children are now the fifth generation of the family to worship at the church where Adams raised money and attended services all those years ago.