Mary Mathews Adams

Mary Mathews Adams (previously, Mary Mathews Smith and Mary Mathews Barnes; October 23, 1840 – December 11, 1902) was an Irish-born American writer and philanthropist.

Mary Mathews Adams
"A woman of the century"
"A woman of the century"
BornMary Jane Mathews
October 23, 1840
Granard, County Longford, Ireland
DiedDecember 11, 1902(1902-12-11) (aged 62)
Redlands, California, U.S.
Occupationwriter, philanthropist
Alma materPacker Collegiate Institute
Notable works"Epithalamium"
Cassius M. Smith
(m. 1869; died 1876)

(m. 1883; died 1888)

(m. 1890; died 1902)


Early years and educationEdit

Mary Jane Mathews was born in Granard, County Longford, Ireland, October 23, 1840. She was the oldest child of John Mathews (d. Staten Island, April 1, 1869), a Protestant. Her mother, a Catholic, was Anna (Reilly) Mathews (d. Brooklyn, ca. 1850). All of the children —Mary Jane, Robert, Anna, John, and Virginia Scott (born in New York City)— were reared in the Catholic Church but all save the youngest left the church early in life. Emigrating to the United States about 1846, when Adams was six years old, the family grew up in Brooklyn.[1]

When she was 12 or 13 years of age, Adams became a student at Packer Collegiate Institute, which she left in 1855 at the age of 15, without graduating.[1] From this, she passed into a graded school.[2]


Family tradition has it that she was a school teacher at the age of seventeen years. The records show that from 1862 to 1868 she taught in Public School No. 15, Degraw Street, Brooklyn.[1][2]

In the autumn of 1869, she married Cassius M. Smith, of Canandaigua, New York, and two years later, went with him to Atchison, Kansas, where her only child was born, and lived less than a year. The husband appears died in 1876, whereupon his widow returned to Brooklyn,[2] and became a teacher in the Juvenile High School.[1] Her enthusiasm as a student, which she always had, found its best result in her interpretations of Shakespeare, and of reading under her able guidance his delineations of character.[2][1]

On November 7, 1883, she married Alfred Smith Barnes, a prominent publisher and philanthropist. His first wife (née Harriet Burr) had died in 1881, leaving him five sons and three daughters. Mr. Barnes, a wealthy man, died at his Brooklyn home on February 17, 1888. After her marriage to Mr. Barnes, when she was 44 years of age, she became the mistress of a fortune, distributing numerous benefactions. During this marriage, she was personally concerned in aiding several worthy institutions which had won her favor — prominent among them being the Home for Incurables and St. John's Protestant Episcopal Hospital, in Brooklyn.[1]

On July 9, 1890, in London, she married Charles Kendall Adams, then president of Cornell University, which institution had received liberal gifts from Mr. Barnes, during the bestowal of which she had first become acquainted with Mr. Adams. As Mrs. Adams, her helpfulness was chiefly manifested in behalf of worthy students, both at Ithaca and Madison, who were struggling against financial odds.[1]

She was the author of thirty or more hymns, many of them incorporated in song books; of a score or more of songs and ballads, several of which were set to music, and of many lyrics and sonnets. Of her songs, the most popular were "The Birds in the Belfry," "Songs that Words can Never Know," and " The Spring Will Soon be Here Again."[3] Adams was a poet whose numerous odes and sonnets won the commendation of several distinguished English and American critics. But it was her Shakespearian study, in which she won repute. Her published works were: Epithalamium (N. Y. and London, 1889); The Choir Visible (Chicago, 1897); and Sonnets and Songs (N. Y. and London, 1901).[1] In 1893 at the World's Congress of Representative Women, she spoke on the topic "The Highest Education".[4]

Death and legacyEdit

Poor health of Mr. and Mrs. Adams led them to remove to California during the winter of 1901. The husband died on July 26, 1902, within three weeks of moving into their property in Redlands, California. She died a few months later, on December 11, 1902.[1][5]

Adams not only gave to the California Historical Society on the occasion of her removal to California, her own extensive private library, but with her personal jewels, endowed the Mary M. Adams Art Fund (US$4,000), to be used in the purchase of either art books for the society's library or objects of art for its museum. What property she had remaining at her death — not large, for her interest in the Barnes estate was in the form of an annuity — was, like her husband's, willed to the University of Wisconsin, for whose welfare she strove throughout the last decade of her life.[1]

Style and themesEdit

The "Epithalamium" is perhaps the best known of her poems. Her verse was largely lyrical, and her themes included romance, heroism, and religion.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j University of Wisconsin 1903, pp. 13-15.
  2. ^ a b c d e Willard & Livermore 1893, p. 8.
  3. ^ Moulton 1890, p. 21.
  4. ^ Manning 1980, p. 28.
  5. ^ Ihde 1990, p. 158.


  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Moulton, Charles Wells (1890). The Magazine of Poetry. 2 (Public domain ed.). Charles Wells Moulton.
  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: University of Wisconsin (1903). Memorial of Charles Kendall Adams: Late President of the University of Wisconsin (Public domain ed.). The University.
  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Willard, Frances Elizabeth; Livermore, Mary Ashton Rice (1893). A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred-seventy Biographical Sketches Accompanied by Portraits of Leading American Women in All Walks of Life (Public domain ed.). Moulton. p. 95.


External linksEdit