Adah McMahan was born in 1869 in Dubois County, Indiana. She received her bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in 1889 and her master’s degree in 1893. After a brief stint as a school teacher, she followed in her father’s footsteps and pursued a medical career. First she attended the IU School of Medicine but transferred to the Women’s Medical School of Northwestern University shortly before graduation in 1897. She then moved to Lafayette, Indiana, where she opened her medical practice.

During the First World War McMahan, like many women doctors, found that the U.S. Army would only accept them as nurses, not as doctors. So McMahan, along with other women doctors of the American Women’s Medical Association, formed the Women’s Overseas Hospital and volunteered en masse with the French government. McMahan spent seven months at a military hospital under the French government primarily treating soldiers who had been gassed.

An active suffragist leader and alumna, McMahan funded an annual scholarship contest for women for over twenty years at IU. A scholarship was awarded to the student who wrote the best essay on an issue of special interest to women that was selected each year by the faculty. Topics included “Women in Public Office,” “Women in War,” and “Opportunities for Women in Social Service.” McMahan also returned annually to deliver a series of special lectures which all female students were required to attend. McMahan was also the first woman to address the Pan-American Conference. Her speech was on “The Community’s Duty to the Children” (which was reprinted in the IU Alumni Magazine.)

McMahan, a Life Member of the IU Alumni Association, was one of the first alumni selected to the new IU Alumni Council in 1913 and she would serve twelve years on it. She also served on the Memorial Fund Drive Committee which built the Indiana Memorial Union, Memorial Hall, and the original Memorial Stadium, and pledged considerable money of her own to the fund. McMahan said of the building that they would be “a Memorial in which every IU student can place patriotism, fidelity, service, and love. Indiana University is justly honored—and will be more honored as those she loves work on her behalf.”

Dr. Adah McMahan’s name appears in the Memorial Fund Drive donor section of the Golden Book.