Adelaide N. Noyes, fought for peace, civil rights

May 06, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Adelaide N. Noyes, a 1920s Baltimore debutante who became a peace activist and civil rights advocate, died April 16 of pulmonary complications at the Bel Air Convalescent Center. She was 91.

The daughter of Waldo Newcomer, who had been board chairman of the Baltimore Trust Co. and a Johns Hopkins University trustee, she brought an unlikely background to the causes she grew to champion.

Born and reared in a townhouse on West Monument Street, she attended Calvert School and graduated from Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Conn.

Returning to Baltimore, she made her social debut at the 1923 Bachelors Cotillon and settled into the life of a debutante -- volunteering in hospitals, attending country club parties and horseback riding.

In 1927, she married Victor P. Noyes, a Naval Academy football star and well-known horse breeder, and the couple settled down to rear a family at Long Green, an estate in northern Baltimore County dating to the mid-1800s.

Mrs. Noyes, in a 1970 interview in The Sun, said she had been "violently militaristic" during the first world war. "I believed the propaganda about the necessity for the war . . . hook, line and sinker."

She credited her reading of "Now It Can Be Told," a book by Philip Gibbs that discussed World War I propaganda, with giving her a sense of outrage against war and changing her thinking about war as an instrument to settle disputes between countries.

In 1938, with the threat of another war looming in Europe, Mrs. Noyes joined the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom -- an organization dedicated to establishing the political, economic, social and psychological conditions that would assure peace and freedom in the world.

Reared as an Episcopalian, she became a Quaker in 1942, and her dedication to anti-war causes continued through the Vietnam War. She marched in Pentagon demonstrations, protested against chemical warfare research outside Edgewood Arsenal and was an enthusiastic supporter of world government.

"Governments today are practically war machines. . . . It's a dreadful thing when governments have power for war and little else," she said in the 1970 Sun interview. "All the progress we have made has been along the line of nonviolence. The evil of war cannot overcome good."

Mrs. Noyes' interest in racial equality began in the early 1950s when she gave a buffet supper to a group of blacks and whites. The gathering was reported to the FBI, and by the next morning, federal agents were asking her husband about her activities.

She continued her activities to foster better relations between blacks and whites, and in 1965 went to Selma, Ala., to help register black voters. Not content to stay in a hotel, she moved in with a black family.

One of her fondest memories was listening in 1959 to a speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., of which she said, "He won my heart for all time."

Her daughter, Margaret N. Hopkins of Darlington, wrote in a tribute several years ago: "She was not afraid to stand up for the things she believed in -- especially peace and racial equality."

Among Mrs. Noyes' other achievements were learning to fly in 1930 and overcoming alcoholism in 1944.

She was a life member of the peace and freedom league and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She also subscribed to the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, said Mrs. Hopkins.

Mrs. Noyes' husband died in 1955.

She is survived by another daughter, Helen Noyes Washburn of Bel Air; seven grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Noyes left her body to the Anatomy Board of Maryland, and services were private.

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