Born in Dublin, Ireland, on June 29, 1874, suffragist and local activist Pauline Forstall Colclough Adams was living in Brunswick County, North Carolina, by 1898, when she married Norfolk physician Walter J. Adams. They lived in Norfolk, where he established a medical practice and she gave birth to two sons. She joined the Woman's Jamestown Association and served as associate editor of its publication, the Jamestown Bulletin, and was elected treasurer in 1905, a position she held until the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition ended. While many meetings undoubtedly took place at the Adamses' house, the most influential occurred on November 18, 1910, when the Norfolk Equal Suffrage League was organized there.
Adams served as the first president of the Norfolk league (a National American Woman Suffrage Association affiliate) and was elected twice more before declining to run again. Unlike her fellow Virginia suffragists, Adams advocated a militant approach to winning the vote for women, shunning the primarily educational activities of the Norfolk league to speak in the city's streets and to march in Washington, D.C., during President Woodrow Wilson's inaugural parade. Her opinions and actions prompted a serious rift in the conservative Norfolk league and a reprimand from state league headquarters in Richmond.
Adams joined the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, a more militant group, and after it was renamed the National Woman's Party, she served as president of the Norfolk branch from 1917 to 1920. With the outbreak of World War I, Adams sprang into action, calling in April 1917 for the formation of a Woman's Home Guard in Norfolk. Unlike the Equal Suffrage League, which suspended political activities in favor of charitable work, the National Woman's Party continued the fight for suffrage during the war. As local NWP president, Adams led the women's section of Norfolk's Preparedness Parade and sold war stamps and bonds at local hotels. On September 4, 1917, Adams was one of thirteen picketers arrested for “flaunting their banners” in front of President Woodrow Wilson's reviewing stand before a Selective Service parade. When given a choice between sixty days in jail or a $25 fine, the suffragists as a whole chose prison and were sent to the workhouse at Occoquan, in Fairfax County.
After passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in August 1920, Adams looked for new challenges. She passed the bar examination in 1921 and became the second woman to practice law in Norfolk. She worked as an attorney and remained involved in politics. She worked for the campaign of Sarah Lee Fain, who in November 1923 became one of the first two women elected to the House of Delegates and the first to represent Norfolk. She also ran unsuccessfully for city council. Pauline Adams died on September 10, 1957, and was buried in Norfolk.
McDaid, Jennifer Davis. “Adams, Pauline Forstall Colclough.” In Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Edited by John T. Kneebone et al., 1:31–32. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998.
———. “All Kinds of Revolutionaries: Pauline Adams, Jessie Townsend, and the Norfolk Equal Suffrage League.” Virginia Cavalcade 49 (2000): 84–93.