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Adams, Mary Electa

Main entryAdams, Mary Electa
Birth placeWestbury, Quebec
Birth date10 November 1823
Death placeToronto, Ontario
Death date5 November 1898
Birth nameMary Electa Adams
Marital statussingle
Religious affiliationMethodist
Paid workteacher (school); teacher (college); principal (college)
BiographyDescendant of a Loyalist family, Mary Electa Adams (1823-1898) was born in Westbury, but from the age of two she grew up in Adamsville (Acton), Ontario. After being tutored at home, she began her formal education in 1840 in her mother's home town of Montpelier, Vermont. A year later, she transferred to and eventually graduated from the Cobourg Ladies' Seminary with a diploma of mistress of liberal arts in 1842. A dedicated and innovative educator, at every institution with which she became affiliated Adams worked to establish a place where women could expect the same quality of education as their brothers, in a Christian atmosphere. After some years in a sequence of Canadian and American schools, including posts as teacher at her alma mater in Cobourg and as principal at Picton Academy in Toronto, in 1854 she was appointed chief preceptress of the "female branch" of the Wesleyan Academy at Mount Allison in Sackville, New Brunswick (later Mount Allison University). In 1861 she became the first principal of the Wesleyan Female College in Hamilton, a position at which she excelled; during her seven years there, she successfully brought the school from a financially-insecure position to flourishing. Personal considerations momentarily interrupted her career; when their mother passed away, Mary and her sister Augusta (1830-after 1906) left their work for a two year journey through Europe. In 1872, upon returning home, she opened her own school in Cobourg, the Brookhurst Academy, affiliated with Victoria College. Her final professional endeavour was a 12-year stint as principal of the Ontario Ladies' College in Whitby. In all, Adams' career covered fifty years and more than ten institutions. At the end of her life, her poems were collected by her niece, poet Helena Coleman* (1860-1953), for private publication. Mary spent her final years in Morley, Alberta, helping Augusta and their nephew set up cattle farms. While visiting family in Toronto in 1898, Mary died of a likely cancerous "paraovarian tumour." In 2004, she was designated a "Person of National Historical Significance" by the Government of Canada for her work in women's educational reform.
TravelItaly (1868), with sister and coworker Augusta
Other notesSiblings: Emmeline Maria Adams (1822-1858), m. Rev. Francis C. Coleman, father of Helena Jane Coleman*; Lucius Adams (1825-1854); John Quency Adams (1827-1849); Augusta Minerva Adams (1830-1912); Clarissa Elvira Adams (1832-).
Honours and awardsDesignated a Person of National Historical Significance (2004)
ResidencesAdamsville, Upper Canada (later Acton, Ontario) (1826-1840); Montpelier, Vermont; Cobourg, Ontario (1841-1847); Toronto, Ontario (1847-1850); Albion, Michigan (1850-1854); Sackville, New Brunswick (1854-1857); Adamsville (Acton), Ontario (1857-1861); Hamilton, Ontario (1861-1868); Italy (1868-1870); Cobourg, Ontario (1870-1880); Whitby, Ontario (1880-1892); Morley, Alberta (1892-1898)
Geographic regionsSouthern Ontario
Primary genrespoetry
Other artspainting
Father's nameRufus Adams
Life dates of father11 June 1783, Cambridge, New York - 16 May 1856, Esquesing, Ontario
Father's notemillwright; built mills on the Grand Trunk Railway
Mother's nameMaria Hubbard
Life dates of motherc1786, Montpelier, Vermont - 1868, Adamsville, Ontario
Biographical referencesDictionary of Canadian Biography XII; Ontario, Canada Deaths, 1869-1936 and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947
Bibliographic referencesWatters, CHECKLIST OF CANADIAN LITERATURE...1620-1960 (1970), p. 4
Research referencescomplete
Archival references1 box, including a diary, in the Elsie Pomeroy Papers, Mount Allison University
Image creditsImage courtesy of Mount Allison University Archives, Picture Collection, 2007.07/254.
CopyrightThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) at Please cite Canada's Early Women Writers. SFU Library Digital Collections. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada. 1980-2014.