Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Melvina Caroline Blanche Whitney Dunford Woods, 1850-1940
By Patricia Lyn Scott, Independent Historian, Jefferson County Historical Society (Idaho) Board of Directors
Vice-President, Idaho Equal Suffrage Association.
Melvina Caroline Blanche Whitney was born on August 18, 1850, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Newel Kimball (1795-1850) and Emmeline Blanche Woodward Whitney (1828-1921), just three years after the first Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. Her father was a prominent Mormon leader serving for fourteen years as the Presiding Bishop. On September 23, 1850, he died expectedly just five weeks after birth. Two years later her mother became the seventh wife of Mormon Apostle and Salt Lake Mayor, Daniel H. Wells (1814-1891).
On October 1, 1867, she married, William Dunford, a young British immigrant. They became the parents of two daughters and one son, Daisie Dean Dunford (1868-1950), Verona May Dunford (1869-1942), and Leslie Alma Dunford (1871-1882). Because of his alcoholism their five-year marriage was marked by separation, reconciliation, and ended in divorce in September 1872. Two years later she married her stepfather's nephew, Major William W. Woods (1841-1920), on November 17, 1874. He was a Civil War veteran and attorney who arrived in Utah just two years earlier. They became the parents of one daughter and one son, Winnifred Isabelle Woods (1875-1879) and William Percival Woods (1878-1887). Only her two older daughters survived to adulthood.
In 1888, the Woods family moved permanently to northern Idaho after four years of periodic visits. They lived first in Murray and moved to Wallace when it became the county seat. In a booming mining area Major Woods established a successful a legal career. He became one of Idaho's most prominent attorneys and in 1906 a well-respected judge serving until his death in 1920. Mrs. Woods died in on April 17, 1940 in Sierra Madre, Los Angeles County, California.
While Melvina was called Mell by friends and family, she was only identified publicly as “Mrs. W.W. Woods.” She was a second-generation suffragist. Her mother Emmeline B. Wells was one of Utah's most prominent women who served as the editor (1877-1914) of the Woman's Exponent, an unofficial publication for Mormon women and a strong voice for women's suffrage. Mrs. Woods was described has having a “natural gift for organizing” and was responsible for organizing at least three clubs in Wallace in the 1890s (the Columbian Club, the Treble Clef, and the Political Science Club).
In the summer of 1895, veteran suffrage organizer Emma Smith DeVoe (1848-1927) was sent to Idaho by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). She made a whirlwind tour of Idaho lecturing and organizing nineteen local suffrage clubs. It appears Mrs. Woods assisted DeVoe in organizing at least nine clubs in northern Idaho including her own Wallace Club where she was chosen as its first president. Mrs. DeVoe would later recall visiting one mining community with Mrs. Woods. They arrived without fanfare discovering no work had been undertaken because their contact no longer resided there and had not received Woods's letter. They consulted local tribal leaders on ways to draw crowds. Immediately they hired young men to collect firewood, and bonfires were set gathering large crowds to hear their message resulting in a series of successful events and a local suffrage club was organized. One grizzled miner was quoted as saying if women could organize such successful events there should be no “concern to have them vote.”
The Idaho Equal Suffrage Association was organized in Boise on November 20, 1895. While only eight counties were represented bylaws were adopted, officers elected, and an initial plan developed. Though Mrs. Woods was out-of-state and did not attend the convention she was elected the Association's vice-president. Unfortunately, both she and the president suffered from ill-health during the winter and were forced to resign. Their resignations were not reported to the executive board until May 30, 1896.
Mrs. Woods remained active in her local suffrage club and assisted in the organization of other local organizations but did not appear to serve any other statewide position. While the Idaho Equal Suffrage Association held its three-day convention in Boise in July, it is unclear whether she attended. Though in August she and her husband attended the State Democratic Convention and played an essential role in winning their support for the equal suffrage amendment. The couple was also identified as attending, speaking, and rallying support at numerous gatherings in the Fall 1896.
In January 1897, NAWSA's convention was held in Des Moines, Iowa with the evening of the 29th designated as a celebration of Idaho's suffrage victory. Mrs. Woods was the only Idaho suffrage leader able to attend the convention. Upon her arrival she discovered her mother, Emmeline B. Wells was also attending and staying at the same hotel. The convention identified Mrs. Wells as doing “more than any person to secure woman suffrage in Utah.” She was an old friend of Susan B. Anthony and was asked to make the keynote introduction. When Mrs. Wells learned of her daughter's presence, she had them both sit with Anthony on the stand during the meetings, address the convention, and later to speak the Iowa State Senate.
“For Equal Suffrage: Powerful Address on the Subject by Mrs. Catt,” Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), August 18, 1896, . http://www.genealogybank.com/ddoc/newspapers/ (Accessed: September 8, 2018).
French, Hiram T. “Women of Idaho – Equal Suffrage,” in Idaho History. Chicago and New York: Lewis Publishing, 1914, 517.
“Idaho Members,” Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), August 14, 1901, 5. http://www.newspapers.com/image/30606015
“Idaho Suffrage Fight: Women Tell How Sentiment Was Worked Up By Them,” Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colorado), December 13, 1896, 16. http://www.genealogybank.com/doc/newspapers/ (Accessed: September 8, 2018).
“Idaho Suffragists,” Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah), November 21, 1895, 1. http://www.newspapers.com/image/11469119 (Accessed: August 4, 2018).
“Idaho Woman Suffragists,” Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, Utah), November 21, 1895, 2. http://www.genealogybank.com/doc/newspapers/ (Accessed: September 8, 2018).
“Leaves from the Old Albums: Mrs. W.W. Woods in the Sixties,” Deseret Evening News (Salt Lake City, Utah), November 30, 1907, 16. http://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/details?=217525/ (Accessed: September 8, 2018).
Madsen, Carol Cornwall. An Advocate for Women: The Public Life of Emmeline B. Wells, 1870-1920. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press and Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006.
Madsen, Carol Cornwall. Emmeline Wells: An Intimate History. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2017.
“Suffrage Matters: Mrs. W. W. Woods to Attend the Meeting of the National Association,” Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), January 17, 1897, . http://www.genealogybank.com/doc/newspapers/ (Accessed: September 8, 2018).
“Suffrage Organization: Work of the Convention Satisfactory Completed,” Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), November 21, 1895, . http://www/genealogybank.com/doc/newspapers/ (Accessed: August 15, 2018).