This undated photos shows Rosa Smithers Adams with daughters (front row) Vera Adams Sanford, Mildred Adams Taylor Seay, (back row) Ella Adams and Alberta Adams Dyson. Marshall

In the October 14, 1920 issue of The Covington Leader it was announced that Rosa Adams and Evelina Connell had been appointed by Mrs. James Beasley to organize African-American women to vote in the 1920 election.

Their efforts, the paper reported, resulted in 121 registrations. The African-American women were registered as Republicans and 558 white women, organized by Beasley, had all registered as Democrats.

Little else is said about this effort, but it was the first presidential election in which gender was not a barrier for voting. The 19th amendment, ratified in August 1920, did not eliminate the poll taxes and literacy tests which continued to disenfranchise African-Americans well into the 20th century, so it is not even known if these121 women were able to cast a ballot.


Nevertheless, Rosa Adams and Evelina Connell’s efforts were valued.

Mrs. Adams, who at the time was 50 years old and widowed, rented a home on Peete Street and was living with her 12-year-old daughter Vera.

She was born in February 1870, during Reconstruction, to Wilkins and Ann Taylor Smithers. The 1880 census shows they lived in Tipton County’s District 9 and 10-year-old Rosa had four siblings living in the home: 11-year-old Sallie, 7-year-old Mary, 5-year-old Ned and 3-year-old Millie.

Ten years later, on Jan. 11, 1890, she married Benjamin J. Adams. By 1900, Adams had lost five babies and had two living children, Alberta, who was born in June 1895, and Ellen, who was born in January 1898. Her husband was a farmer, she was a farm laborer; census records show they still lived in the 9th civil district, in a house they owned free and clear. Mareah Burchett, who was 80 years old and widowed, was a grandmother living with the small family. She had also buried her only child.

By 1910, two more children – 8-year-old Mildred and 4-year-old Vera – had been born to the family. The family was living in District 10 and were still farming.

Mr. Adams died in May 1916 with nephritis.

It’s not known how Mrs. Adams came to her position as an organizer, but 10 years after women’s suffrage she was 60 years old and lived on East Ida Street in Memphis with her daughter, Mildred Adams Taylor Seay. She was employed as a laundress.

Adams died on Dec. 15, 1935 of bronchial pneumonia.

Mrs. Connell and her husband, Dr. John H. Connell were community organizers and heavily involved in many activities and philanthropic endeavors.

Born on Dec. 4, 1886 to James Donaldson “Don” and Amanda Motley McCadden, by the time she was 13 her parents had divorced. She and her sister, 10-year-old Ollie, were living with their single mother, who was a cook, and George Isly, a 36-year-old man listed as her mother’s nephew. Two older brothers, William and Donaldson, are living elsewhere in 1900.

In 1909 she and J.H. married. He was already a physician who had attended Meharry Medical College and she was a public school teacher. The couple lived on Douglas Street in Covington, near what is now the Covington High School football field, and her father and stepmother, Pearl Alston, lived next door to them. Don and Pearl had two sons, George, who was five, and Lawrence, who was two.

The couple welcomed a daughter, Helen, on March 9, 1913 and by 1920 were living on North Main Street near Dr. T. H. Price and family. Dr. Connell’s brothers, who are 21 and 19, also lived with the family.

At that time, many affluent African-Americans were moving into the city and on or near the vibrant downtown North Main Street community.

Dr. Connell, along with Dr. Price, were extensively involved with community.

In 1917, The Covington Leader reports Dr. Connell donated to the Red Cross and was the master of ceremonies for a program at Frazier High School hosted by Collins Chapel CME Church for the African-American soldiers who’d been drafted in the military.

The following year both he and Price were on the committee to encourage African-Americans in Tipton County to raise more than $5,200 in pledges, $700 higher than their goal, for the United War Work effort.

In 1920, as his wife was registering voters, Dr. Connell, Dr. Price, Rev. Allison, Rev. W.J. Clark, Prof. E. Alston, B.V. Burchett, Dr. T.R. Connell, N.W. Keys, Henry Porter, Tom Bond and G.R. Smith helped organize a fair at the African-American school.

The family, sadly, did not live much longer.

On May 25, 1923, Mrs. Connell’s father, Don McCadden, died with pneumonia. He’d been treated for several days by Dr. Connell and Connell signed the death certificate.

On July 4, 1926, Evelina died, followed by 14-year-old Helen the next year on Oct. 28, 1927.

It’s not currently known how either died.

Dr. Connell died the following year on Oct. 26, 1928, his 48th birthday, after eight days in the hospital. He had interstitial nephritis, diabetes and high blood pressure and had been treated by his friend, Dr. Price.

And while it is unknown how many people registered to vote because of the efforts of Rosa Smithers Adams and Evelina McCadden Connell, or how many people followed the Adams’ and Connells’ examples of being engaged with the community, it is understood their legacies continued for generations.

Echo Day
Author: Echo Day

Echo Day is an award-winning journalist, photographer and designer. She is currently The Leader's managing editor.