Mary Ramsey Wood

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Mary Ramsey Wood
Mary Ramsey Wood.png
Wood on July 26, 1907
Born May 20, 1787/circa 1810
Knoxville, Tennessee
Died January 1, 1908
Hillsboro, Oregon
Resting place Hillsboro Pioneer Cemetery
45°31′14″N 123°00′22″W / 45.52045°N 123.00599°W / 45.52045; -123.00599Coordinates: 45°31′14″N 123°00′22″W / 45.52045°N 123.00599°W / 45.52045; -123.00599
Spouse(s) Jacob Lemons (died in 1839)
John Wood (died in 1867)

Mary Ramsey Wood aka Mary Ramsey Lemons Wood (May 20, 1787/circa 1810 (disputed) – January 1, 1908) was an American pioneer known as the "Mother Queen of Oregon". She was reported to be the oldest living person in the United States when she died, supposedly at the age of 120. It is said she traveled to the Oregon Territory across the Oregon Trail at the age of 66. There is evidence this age claim was inaccurate or exaggerated, however, and she may have been between 96 and 98 when she died.[1]


This section is based mainly on two 1908 obituaries for Mary Ramsey Wood and a 1906 story on the occasion of her birthday.[2][3][4] These sources were likely mistaken about her being born in 1787, as described below, thus, many of the age-related facts may be inaccurate.

According to obituaries published in 1908, Mary Ramsey was born on May 20, 1787 on a farm near Knoxville, Tennessee. The child of brickmaker Richard Ramsey and his wife, Catherine (née Gann),[5] Mary Ramsey grew up in Tennessee. Her parents were born in England and immigrated to North America after they were married. In the American Colonies, they settled in Tennessee and raised ten children. Mary was the sixth child. Ramsey's mother was reported to have lived to the age of 110, and her father had died just a few years before his wife. Richard Ramsey built the first brick home in Knoxville, and the family was wealthy and owned slaves. In her early years Mary Ramsey danced with General Andrew Jackson, for whom her father fought in the War of 1812.

At the age of 12, Ramsey joined the Methodist church, and in 1804 she married Jacob Lemons in Tennessee. The couple would raise four children on their farm in that state. The children were Mary Jane Lemons (1806–1904), Isaac Lemons (1809–1866), Nancy Ellen Lemons Bullock (1816–1868), and Catherine Bridgette Lemons Southworth Smith Reynolds (1830–1909).[6] In 1837, the family moved to Alabama followed by Georgia the next year. In 1839, Jacob died, and in 1849 Mary Lemons moved to Missouri.[2]

Lemons moved to the Oregon Territory with her daughters Nancy and Catherine and their families in 1852.[7] The family brought 12 slaves with them to Oregon. Wood rode her horse Martha Washington Pioneer the entire journey along the Oregon Trail at the age of 66, and as a midwife she delivered at least one baby during the trip. The family arrived in Oregon in 1853, and settled in Washington County at Hillsboro in the Tualatin Valley. She married John Wood on May 28, 1854, in Hillsboro. He built the first frame hotel in Hillsboro, the Commercial Hotel,[8] in which Mary tended bar at the in-house saloon.

Around 1865, the couple sold the hotel to Mary's daughter Catherine. John Wood died in 1867. Mary Wood then served as postmaster of Hillsboro before retiring to her daughter's residence. In 1879, she suffered from typhoid fever and lost the sight in her left eye. In 1904, she testified in a trial concerning a 40-year-old land deed, where she was noted for having a "keen" memory. In 1907, Wood was crowned as the first "Mother Queen" of Oregon by former Oregon Senator George Henry Williams and the president of the Oregon Pioneer Association, Joseph D. Lee.[9][10] Henry L. Pittock presided over the ceremony on July 4, 1907, at which Wood was represented by a large photograph by Frederick H. Kiser due to her frailty; the story was reported nationally.[11][12]

Wood's gravestone

According to obituaries of the time, "Grandma" Mary Ramsey Wood died at the age of 120 on January 1, 1908, at five o'clock in the morning. At the time of her death she was thought to be the oldest living person in the United States. She was also referred to as the "oldest Methodist in the world".[13] Wood was buried at the Hillsboro Pioneer Cemetery.[14] Her death and her supposed age were widely reported across the country at the time.

A 1908 Oregonian story, which claimed her age was authentic, stated that Wood's daughter had written to relatives in Missouri for a record of the family Bible. The reply, which the Oregonian claims was viewed by their reporter, excerpted the bible record that showed Wood's age would have been 120 the previous May. The letter, however, was lost and the relatives moved, making it "impossible" to contact the letter writer again. At the time of Wood's death, George Putnam, editor of the Capital Journal, republished a 1905 interview with Wood conducted when he worked for The Oregon Journal. He believed that she may have been the oldest woman in the world.

Longevity claim[edit]

Although both historic and contemporary sources repeat the claim that Wood was 120 years old at the time of her death, according to United States Census records and modern longevity research, this longevity claim is highly likely to be false.

If Mary Ramsey Wood had lived to be 120, as claimed, she would have been the world's oldest person at that time, and would be the oldest American on record even today. That distinction, however, according to Guinness World Records, belongs to Sarah Knauss, who died at age 119.

Census data[edit]

In addition to the longevity records, census data may show a discrepancy between Mary Wood's claimed age at death and her actual age. Three U.S. census records for Hillsboro list a Mary Wood with data that match parts of Mary Ramsey Wood's biography. The 1860 Census lists a Mary Wood, aged 50, and a John Wood, aged 71, living in Hillsboro, alongside Charles and Nancy Bullock, aged 38 and 27 respectively.[15] John's occupation is "landlord".[15]

There is a Mary Wood listed in the 1880 Census for Hillsboro, with a stated age of 69.[1] The Mary Wood listed in the census data was born in Tennessee and lived with her daughter, Catherine Smith.[1] Her parents were from England.[1]

The 1900 Census lists a Mary Wood with a birthdate of May 1809 (age 91) living with her daughter Catherine Reynolds, whose birthdate was October 1832 (age 67), in Hillsboro.[16] The Mary Wood in the 1900 census was born in Tennessee with parents born in England.[16] Although Mary Ramsey Wood was called a "great reader", the Mary Wood in the 1900 census could not read or write.[16]

If the Mary Wood listed in the 1860, 1880, and 1900 censuses is the same person as Mary Ramsey Wood, then, owing to a slight discrepancy in the stated ages, she would have been between 96 and 98 years old at the time of her death.


Wood's hotel, at the northwest corner of 2nd and Washington streets, burned down in 1912.[17] Today the HART Theatre is located on the site.[18] The nearby Hillsboro Civic Center has an informational plaque in its plaza about Wood.[19] In 2005, it was proposed that a fountain at the civic center be named for Wood.[20]

January 1, 2008 was named Mary Ramsey Wood Day by the City of Hillsboro. Local historian James Andrew Long advocated for this recognition of Wood.[21]

Modern news stories about Wood, published as recently as 2014, mention that there is some dispute about her age at death but continue to state her age of 120 years at her death as fact.[5][8][18]


  1. ^ a b c d "Washington County". Population schedules of the tenth census of the United States, 1880, Oregon [microform] ([197-]). p. 28. 
  2. ^ a b "Oldest Oregon Woman is Dead". The Morning Oregonian. January 2, 1908. 
  3. ^ Putnam, George (January 1908). "Oregon's Oldest Woman Who Passed Away At Age of 120". Capital Journal. 
  4. ^ "Oldest Woman in The World Will Celebrate her Birthday". The Morning Oregonian. May 20, 1906. Retrieved November 14, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b "Living a Dozen Decades". Albany Democrat-Herald. December 31, 2002. Retrieved November 14, 2014. 
  6. ^ Engen, Edna (October 19, 1976). "Pioneer's 121 Years Spans Three Centuries". The Hillsboro Argus. 
  7. ^ Stephenie, Flora. "Emigrants to Oregon in 1853". The Oregon Territory and Its Pioneers. Retrieved November 14, 2014. 
  8. ^ a b "The Woman Whose Life Spanned 3 Centuries, 1787 to 1908". The Beaverton Resource Guide. June 1, 2014. Retrieved November 14, 2014. 
  9. ^ Horner, John B. (1921). Oregon: Her History, Her Great Men, Her Literature. Portland: The J.K. Gill Co. 
  10. ^ Note: Women later nominated "Mother Queen" included Otelia Cullen Polk DeWitt and Nancy Kincaid
  11. ^ "Will Be Crowned Today the Mother Queen of Oregon". The Morning Oregonian. July 4, 1907. Retrieved November 15, 2014. 
  12. ^ Transactions of the 37th–41st Annual Reunions. Oregon Pioneer Association. 1913. pp. 1, 59, 493. 
  13. ^ "Genealogical Abstracts from Reported Deaths: The Nashville Christian Advocate 1908–1910 (cached)". Archived from the original on June 13, 2007. Retrieved November 14, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Mary Ramsey Wood". Find a Grave. Retrieved November 14, 2014. 
  15. ^ a b "Washington County". Population schedules of the eighth census of the United States, 1860, Oregon [microform] (1967). p. 27. 
  16. ^ a b c "Washington County". 12th census of population, 1900 [microform] : Oregon (1978). p. 4307. 
  17. ^ "The Hub: Mother, Son Died in 1912 Blaze Which Burned Commercial". The Hillsboro Argus. October 19, 1976. p. 12. 
  18. ^ a b Fitzgerald, Kimberli; Raber, Deborah (2009). Hillsboro. Images of America. Arcadia Publishing. p. 61. 
  19. ^ "Mary Ramsey Wood: Hillsboro's Pioneer and Longest-Lived Citizen". The Advisory from Washington County Disability, Aging & Veteran Services. Archived from the original on November 4, 2007. Retrieved November 14, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Historical Society to propose 'Mary Ramsey Wood Fountain'". The Oregonian. December 1, 2005. 
  21. ^ Suh, Elizabeth (December 27, 2007). "Hillsboro, Past and Present". The Oregonian Metro West Neighbors. 

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