Adeline Morrison Swain was born in Bath, New Hampshire in 1820. Ms. Swain grew up privileged and was highly educated for a woman during the 1800s.
In 1846, at the age of 26, she married James Swain, a pharmacist, in Bath, New Hampshire. By 1858, the Swains had moved to Fort Dodge, Iowa and opened up a local mercantile and drugstore. In 1870 he built a large two-story building for his business. A second floor meeting room allowed Adeline and other area women to meet, where they met and organized charitable good works for the betterment of the community. These works included holding fundraisers to assist widows and orphans and others in need. The women used social gatherings to fundraise and voted on the spending of the proceeds within the community.
Ms. Swain’s interests were widely varied, and included, but were not limited to science, literature, foreign language, drawing, painting, educating others and women’s rights, including the right of women to vote and run for public office.
In 1869, after attending a lecture on suffrage where she heard Susan B. Anthony speak, Ms. Swain was moved by her speech and gathered women together from Fort Dodge and the surrounding areas to hold the first known suffragist meeting in Webster County and thus began her lifelong struggle to bring the right to vote to women. She was known throughout Iowa for her efforts. Swain became a friend of Susan B. Anthony’s. She is mentioned in the Susan B. Anthony museum, and the two exchanged many letters through the years.
For many years Adeline Swain wrote articles for local papers on a variety of topics including women’s right to vote, spiritualism, culture and laws that were being debated in the Iowa Legislature.
Swain’s devotion to education led her to be the one of the first women in Iowa to seek elective office at the local and state levels. She was also the first woman in Iowa to be nominated by a political party for such a distinction. In 1879 she was put forth by the Greenback Party to seek election County Superintendent of Public Instruction. In 1880 she lost that election, but came back in 1883 as the Greenback Party’s nominee for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, losing a much closer race in 1884. She was elected a national delegate to the Greenback Party National Convention held in Indianapolis to choose the party’s nominees for President and Vice President.
As a former teacher, prominent in area society and a leader in the community, Ms. Swain devoted herself to the notion that the sciences, language and mathematics should be taught to all children, including girls. She conducted classes in her home to educate women (and men) in various subjects.
In addition to her many accomplishments mentioned above, she was a well-known oil painter in the area, a socialite, and was selected by the United States government to go to Colorado and study the grasshopper problem.
Swain and her husband built a beautiful home in 1871. This home, which is on the National Registry of Historical Homes, is now known as the Vincent House in Fort Dodge, Iowa. It is in this home that Susan B. Anthony is said to have stayed, soirees were commonly enjoyed, lessons were taught and it also served as the gathering place for meetings of various types. Due to the economic downturn in the mid-70s, the Swain’s lost their home.
Ms. Swain was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.
Authors: Shari Fitzgerald, Fort Dodge and Kristen Corey, Iowa Department of Human Rights’ Office on the Status of Women
Photo credit: Iowa Department of Human Rights, Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame