Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary K. Wood, 1828-1902
By Dominique Engle and Caroline Rohan, Undergraduate Students, Saint Anselm College
Treasurer, Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association; Executive Committee Member, New England Woman Suffrage Association; Abolitionist; Temperance Activist
Mary Ann Kenyon, later known as Mary K. Wood, was born on February 20, 1828 in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. She was the daughter of Sarah Shove Wilbur and John Taylor Kenyon, and one of 8 siblings—six sisters named Lydia, Martha, Susan, Margaret, Eliza, and Sarah, and a brother, John. By the 1830s, the family had moved to Pawtucket, Rhode Island where the father worked as a farmer. The Kenyons were a Quaker family and this upbringing stuck with her; in an obituary, her cousin referred to her as preferring “the simple form of worship in which she had been reared,” although she became “quite liberal in her religious opinions” later in life.
Kenyon and her sisters became active in the nineteenth-century abolitionist movement. Quakers were prominent in both the early antislavery and woman suffrage movements in the United States. As abolitionists, the Kenyon sisters “attended lectures, gave their help in fairs, and lent their influence in every possible way till the long struggle was ended.” Mary Ann Kenyon was also a member of the Women's National Loyal League, an organization created during the Civil War by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to advocate for a constitutional amendment ending slavery.
In October 1867, at age thirty-nine, Mary Ann Kenyon married William Frederick Wood at a Friends' Meeting House. Wood was a fifty-five year old bookkeeper from Fall River, Massachusetts who had been widowed when his previous wife, Louisa Sherman, died in 1863. The new couple moved to Providence and a family member later noted that their marriage was an “unusually happy” one.
After marriage, Mary K. Wood continued her social and political activism in Rhode Island. She was a longtime member of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association (RIWSA), dating from approximately 1877 to her death in 1902; her obituary notes that she had been a member for twenty-five years when she died. Many members of the early Rhode Island woman suffrage movement also had supported abolition. By 1880, she was a member of RIWSA's executive committee and by 1882 she was the organization's treasurer, a position she held until her death. In addition to her role in Rhode Island, Wood also served on the executive committee of the New England Woman Suffrage Association throughout the 1890s. Wood's suffrage activism was a family affair; her sister, Susan C. Kenyon, and cousin, Ellen M. Bolles, were also officers in the RIWSA.
In addition to her work in the woman suffrage movement, Wood was also active in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Both in Rhode Island and nationally, there was much crossover in members and issues between the temperance and suffrage movements. Wood was raised in a family that abstained from alcohol and was described as “a firm friend and strong adherent” of the WCTU and “one of its most valued members.”
William F. Wood died in Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1897; the Woods had moved to Pawtucket in the 1890s and lived in Mary Wood's childhood home. In 1902, after a difficult six-month illness, Mary K. Wood died at her Pawtucket home, which she shared with her sister, Susan C. Kenyon, and several cousins. Following her death, the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association passed a memorial resolution for her at its 1902 annual meeting and NAWSA's The Woman's Journal published an obituary for her. In that obituary, Wood's cousin and fellow suffragist, Ellen M. Bolles, memorialized her as being “so true to her convictions, so unswerving from what she believed was right, so kind and faithful to her friends, [and] so charitable to the needy and suffering.” Bolles also described her as “an extremely modest, unassuming woman,” who lived a “long life of usefulness and service to others.”
A record of Mary K. Wood's birth, death, marriage, and the family tree can be found at Ancestry.com under the “Mary K. Wood Family Tree” https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/tree/159488559/family. Information was found in the Rhode Island Census for 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, and 1900 and one state census in 1875. There were also two U.S. City Directories, one stating her place of residence in 1896 and her death date of January 24, 1902. Rhode Island Vital Extracts named her parents and her 4 youngest siblings as well as their birth dates, but not her's or her older sister and two younger sisters. Mary's birth date was not mentioned in any documents but instead found through a “leaf” hint which showed another person's family tree and it stated that her birth date was in the Kenyon Family Bible listed as “20th of 2nd m 1828” or February 20, 1828. The tree includes many other family members, including her 11 aunts and uncles on her mother's side, one aunt whose daughter, Ellen M. Bolles, later gave us the detailed description of her work, her faith, and personality in The Woman's Journal. All of these sources are listed under “Mary Ann Kenyon Wood”, “Facts”, and then “Sources” https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/21307050/person/1063114404/facts.
Information regarding Mary's involvement in suffrage and religious movements, funeral information, and her aunt, Elizabeth W. Wilbur's, 80th Birthday Surprise, can be found in the Providence Journal articles published on January 19, 1901, January 29, 1902, October 8th, 1897, October 25, 1883, October 25, 1889, November 11, 1881 and October 27, 1882.
Records about the marriage date of Mary's parents, Sarah Shove Wilbur and John Taylor Kenyon, can be found on page 84 of the Narragansett Historical Register as published by The Narragansett Historical Publishing Company in 1889, or at https://books.google.com/books?id=xQijjzjfGyoC&pg=PA84&lpg=PA84&dq=john+t+kenyon+-facebook+1730..1890&source=bl&ots=goZCfZ4l4q&sig=ACfU3U1ux0RDiozd35FS77KKiI82mcC5zA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj9lZqT_r7gAhWFdt8KHWVzDrkQ6AEwAHoECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=john%20t%20kenyon%20-facebook%201730..1890&f=false.
Mary K. Wood's work in the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association is documented in The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 6, p. 570 [LINK]. Wood and her sister, Susan Kenyon, are mentioned in The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 4, p. 910 [LINK].
Quotes, personality traits, information about her Quaker origin, her job as a housekeeper/cook in the home, place of marriage, reason of death, and involvement in a multitude of movements such as the WSA, anti-slavery, RIWSA, WCTU, and Loyal Women and other details about Mary can be found in her obituary written by her niece. This obituary can be found in The Woman's Journal, XXXIII, Issue 16, Saturday, April 19, 1902, p. 190.