By Dana R. Bennett, Ph.D.
Role in Women’s Suffrage: President, Hawthorne Chapter of Nevada Equal Franchise Society
Adelaide Holmes (known as Addie as a child and Ada as an adult) was born in California to Julius J. and M. Holmes in 1857. Her mother, a native of Ireland, died before 1870. Ada and her two sisters, Margaret Jane, and Mary Ruth (Mollie), were raised by their father, a native of New York and a Mexican War veteran who participated in the 1849 gold rush to California and settled on the Comstock Lode in Nevada. By 1871, Holmes was the Superintendent of Construction for the Virginia and Truckee Railroad. The 1870 census shows Ada and her sisters boarding at school under the direction of Eliza Babcock and Hannah Clapp in Carson City.
By age 23, Ada was teaching at Virginia City’s Third Ward School. In 1882, she married Arthur J. (“A.J.”) McCarthy whose brother, Denis McCarthy, was editor of the local newspaper, The Territorial Enterprise. The young couple lived briefly in Hawaii for his health, and their oldest daughter Margarita (Rita) was born in Honolulu. They returned to Nevada in 1885 where A.J. went to work for the Reno Evening Gazette. In 1888, he bought the Walker Lake Bulletin from John M. Campbell who was married to Ada’s youngest sister. The extended McCarthy family, which had added daughter Ruth and son John by this time, moved to Hawthorne where J.J. Holmes, A.J. McCarthy, and Ada McCarthy became prominent residents of the relatively new town and lived out their lives.
As a force in her own right, Ada was a significant member of the Hawthorne community. She served as President of the Hawthorne Literary Club in 1914 and was active in the Nevada Federation of Women’s Clubs. After Nevada women won the right to vote in 1914, Ada led the effort to develop the Hawthorne Women’s Civic League from her position as 12th Vice President of the newly formed Nevada Women’s Civic League.
When the local chapter of the Nevada Equal Franchise Society was formed in November 1913, it was not a surprise that she was elected its first President. Ada’s prominence and her husband’s reputation for unabashedly using his newspaper to support progressive reforms combined to move her into that leadership position. Earlier in that same year, Ada’s son, John Arthur McCarthy, had had an important role in advancing the question of woman suffrage to the Nevada ballot in November 1914. During the election of 1912, Nevada women worked hard to get pro-suffrage men elected to the Legislature to ensure that the constitutional amendment would be approved for the second time as required. John McCarthy was elected to represent Mineral County, of which Hawthorne was the seat of government, and cast his vote in favor of the suffrage amendment during the 1913 legislative session. He did not run for re-election.
In 1916, the first state election in which Nevada women could vote, Mineral County voters elected Ada’s daughter, Rita McCarthy Millar, as County Recorder-Auditor. She was re-elected twice. Unfortunately, Ada did not live to see Rita elected, in 1922, as the first woman to represent Mineral County in the Nevada Legislature. Ada contracted influenza in late 1918 and died from complications related to the disease on April 1, 1919.
- 1870, 1880, 1910 U.S. Census
- Nevada State Journal, June 5, 1888; November 3, 1913; December 13, 1914
- Reno Evening Gazette, August 25, 1886; February 19, 1915; March 29, 1915; November 4, 1938
- Walker Lake Bulletin, August 13, 1911; February 22, 1919; April 5, 1919
- Western Nevada Miner, April 5, 1919
- Dana R. Bennett, “Undismayed by Any Mere Man”: Women Lawmakers and Tax Policy in Nevada, 1919-1956. PhD dissertation, 2011
- Austin E. Hutcheson, ed, “The Story of the Nevada Equal Suffrage Campaign: Memoirs of Anne Martin,” University of Nevada Bulletin, 1948Thomas Wren, A History of the State of Nevada: Its Resources and People, 1904