Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Dell Kelso Mohlenhoff, 1865–1932
By Amy O'Neal, Independent Researcher
Woman Suffrage Activist
Dell (or Dora) Kelso was born to William Kelso, a cooper, and his wife Caroline Currey Kelso, in Washington, Illinois, in September 1865. Dell was one of at least eight children born to the Kelsos, who later had a farm in Illinois. At the age of twenty, Dell attended Ohio Wesleyan University for one year, entering as a freshman in the Literary course of study. She later worked as a schoolteacher in Douglas County, Illinois. On February 25, 1892, she married Rudolph H. Mohlenhoff, an Illinois veterinarian, and the two of them moved to Mississippi around 1907. The couple appears to have had no children.
Mohlenhoff's suffrage activities were first documented in 1910 at the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association's (MWSA) state convention in Greenville, Mississippi, when she was credited with contributing to the organization's press work by editing a column for the Cleveland Enterprise in Cleveland, Mississippi. The press work committee report specifically said that “her bright and spicy articles have added immeasurably to our Mississippi literature.” She also was treasurer of the MWSA that year.
During the MWSA state convention in April 1911 in Cleveland, Mississippi, Mohlenhoff was elected corresponding secretary. The minutes report that Mohlenhoff had represented Mississippi at the Tri-State Fair in Memphis, Tennessee, where she joined Mrs. J. D. Allen, the president of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association; subscribed to a dozen copies of the Woman's Journal—the “official organ of the National Association”—that would be sent throughout the state; presented the treasurer's report; and introduced a resolution that the MWSA “petition the next Legislature to submit an amendment making women eligible to serve on School Boards and as Superintendents of Education.” Her largest contribution, however, was her report as Chairman of the Health Department, which focused on anti-tuberculosis work, the spread of which was of concern nationwide. Mohlenhoff ended her report by recommending that MWSA members organize across the state to combat the tuberculosis, petition the state to establish a State Tuberculosis Hospital, examine ways to lower infant death rates, and petition the state to pass a law requiring physicians to take precautions that would prevent blindness in newborn infants. Her tuberculosis work was coordinated with Dr. H.L. Sutherland, the health officer of Bolivar County, with whom she attended a series of health institutes and presented a paper called “Education The Most Important Factor in Promotion of Health.” Later in 1911, Mohlenhoff attended the national convention in Louisville, Kentucky, as a delegate from Mississippi.
And in April 1912, Mohlenhoff attended the MWSA convention in Flora, Mississippi, as corresponding secretary. And in 1913, she continued her press work by contributing regular suffrage articles to the Cleveland Enterprise. In the fall of 1914, Mohlenhoff was a member of one of the committees that planned the Suffrage Day that was held at the state fair in Jackson, Mississippi, on October 29.
Mohlenhoff's later writings reveal a tart, merciless political perspective, conservative and uncompromising. “Try writing a nice Golden-Ruley sort of piece about the proper Christian spirit to be shown to those who hold different political views than yours,” she wrote to a Democratic columnist in the Montgomery Advertiser in 1928. “. . . The oozy-woozy stuff congeals immediately, doesn't it?” She spoke from a Republican, pro-prohibition viewpoint, which is unsurprising, considering the importance of the temperance lobby and the Republican party (as then constituted) in supporting the passage of women's suffrage.
In her later years, Mohlenhoff worked as a florist. Another one of her abiding interests was genealogy; she contributed to the history of the Kelso family. She also became a member of the Madame Hodnett Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, for which she briefly served as a chapter regent before her death.
Mohlenhoff died on November 3, 1932, in Cleveland, Mississippi, and is buried in the New Cleveland Cemetery with her husband, who died in 1952. Her gravestone gives her year of birth as 1867, which differs from census records.
1910 U.S. Census, Illinois, Bourdon, Douglas County, p. 19, Enumeration District: 0051. Digital images. Ancestry.com.
Alexander, T.H. “I Reckon So.” Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), October 3, 1928, p.4. Available through Newspapers.com.
Catalogue of Ohio Wesleyan University for 1885-86. Delaware, OH, 1886, p. 89. Available online at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiug.30112112245169;view=1up;seq=15
Find a Grave, database and images, added August 25, 2008. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/29298919/dell-mohlenhoff.
“Former Arthur Woman Dies in Mississippi.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon, Illinois). November 19, 1932, p. 6. Available through Newspapers.com.
Forty-Second Annual Report of the National-American Woman Suffrage Association. New York, 1910.
Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. The History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. VI (1900-1920). N.p.: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922, p. 329. [LINK]
Illinois, Marriage Index, 1860-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Joy O'Donnell, DAR Archivist, e-mail to Nancy Simmons, May 14, 2018.
Kelso, Douglas. Immigrant John Kelso of Pennsylvania & Virginia: His Ancestors and Descendants. Memphis, 1995.
Maurer, Elizabeth L. “The History of Women in the Republican Party.” National Women's History Museum. July 18, 2016. https://www.womenshistory.org/articles/history-women-republican-party.
Mississippi Medical Monthly. Editorial. October 1911.
Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association: 7th Annual Session, Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association, 1911.
National Park Service. “Abolition, Women's Rights, and Temperance Movements.” Last updated September 20, 2016. https://www.nps.gov/wori/learn/historyculture/abolition-womens-rights-and-temperance-movements.htm.
Sixth Annual Report of the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association, Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association, 1910.
“State Woman's Suffrage Association Chooses Officers.” The Times-Democrat (New Orleans, Louisiana), April 14, 1911, p. 7. Available through Newspapers.com.
“Suffrage Workers at State Fair.” The Yazoo Herald, (Yazoo, Mississippi), October 16, 1914, p. 2. Available through Newspapers.com.
“Suffragist Press Department.” The Weekly Democrat-Times (Greenville, Mississippi), April 29, 1910, p. 1. Available through Newspapers.com.
Thompson, Lily Wilkerson. “Suffragist Press Department.” Greenville Times (MS), April 29, 2010.
Thompson, Lily Wilkerson. “Suffrage for Women.” Jackson Daily News, October 21, 1911, p. 2. Available through Newspapers.com.