Biographical Sketch of Marcella Wilmot Woods Welch

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Marcella Wilmot Woods Welch, 1863-1928

By Nan Weber, author and independent historian

“Our Beloved Cause”

Marcella Wilmot Woods Welch was the daughter of Dr. Daniel Lindley Woods and Sarah (Sally) Rebekah Renick. Her birth story was re-told in many versions. Here is one: Daniel and Sarah were married in Missouri in 1862 and were Union sympathizers. In 1863, because of rebel bushwhackers they were forced to flee from their home at Pink Hill, Jackson County. They traveled at night, incognito, following fence hedges, to the town of Napoleon located on the Missouri River, where some of Sarah's family members lived. They boarded the Steamer Marcella Wilmot where Sarah gave birth to their first daughter on September 15, 1863. The choice of a name came easy for their daughter—Marcella Wilmot. The Woods family traveled east, to Indiana where Daniel enlisted in the Union Army and served as Assistant Surgeon until the end of the war.

A move to Streator, Illinois came after the war where Marcella, in her youth known as “Willie,” received her education. While the family settled into life in Streator, another family who left Missouri during the war and settled in Streator, was the Noah and Jane Welch family. Their son Roy Winslow would certainly have met “Willie” at this time. Both families began westward movements after 1880. Marcella's family moved to Dighton, Lane County, Kansas while the Welch family headed to Plumb Creek, Dawson County, Nebraska. “Willie” and Roy kept in touch and were married at her parents' home in Dighton on August 13, 1888. They began their married life in Plumb Creek before moving on to Calloway, Nebraska.

During her residency in both Kansas and Nebraska, Marcella was exposed to proposed suffrage legislation which was unfortunately defeated in both states. Each state formed women suffrage associations fighting for state and municipal enfranchisement. The Welch's move to the Kelso, Washington by 1903 would throw Marcella into Washington State's fight for suffrage. Certainly, inspired by Washington suffrage leader Emma Smith DeVoe, Marcella began organizing locally in her Kelso community. She became president of the local suffrage chapter of Washington and began a column in the “Kelsonian” which, as she wrote to DeVoe, “has not a member on its staff who is in favor of W.S. They always do treat me nice tho'.”

It is through Marcella's correspondence with Emma DeVoe that we learn she utilized Devoe's technique of grassroots organizing, distributing suffrage literature and speaking at municipal meetings, town gatherings and farm communities. Marcella was especially effective in visiting lumber camps and delivering speeches to the workers while they ate. She stimulated action by challenging camps to have the largest suffrage clubs. Roy was ever supportive of women's suffrage and Marcella used that influence in Kelso's Commercial Club meetings (he was vice-president) to expand the suffrage cause, turning one meeting in particular, into a successful discussion of enfranchisement.

Walking dusty rural roads and following rail lines, much of Marcella's intense work took place during 1909 and she must have felt pleased that her contribution helped with the passage of Washington State's suffrage referendum in 1910. Marcella's pride in her hard work stands out when in 1909 she wrote to DeVoe, “I feel like a “new woman” so beautifully are things working out for our beloved cause.”

Marcella Welch passed away in Kelso in July 1928.

Sources:

Census Records (accessed through ancestry.com and/or National Archives and Records Administration—

Year: 1850— Centerville, Wayne Co. Indiana
Year: 1860— Twp., 66, Gentry Co. Missouri
  Sinabar Twp., Jackson Co. Missouri
Year: 1870— Sinabar Twp., Jackson Co. Missouri
  Streator, LaSalle Co. Illinois
  Sparland, Marshall Co. Illinois
Year: 1880— Streator, LaSalle Co. Illinois
  Pct. 2 & 4, Custer Co. Nebraska
Year: 1900— Calloway, Custer Co. Nebraska
  Dighton, Lane Co. Kansas
Year: 1910— Kelso Ward 2, Cowlitz Co. Washington
  Cottage Grove, Lane Co. Oregon
Year: 1920— Kelso, Cowlitz Co. Washington
  Cottage Grove, Lane Co. Oregon
Year: 1930— Eugene, Lane Co. Oregon

Kansas State Census: Years 1885 and 1895

Military Records—

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.;
Consolidated Lists of Civil War Draft Registration Records and Ancestry.com

Vitals—

https://www.findagrave.com/
https://billiongraves.com/
Oregon death indexes: http://genealogy.state.or.us/
Missouri Marriages 1862
Washington Death Certificates

U.S. City Directories—

1822-1995, ancestry.com: Eugene WA 1905 through 1930

Newspapers—

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress:
https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/
https://www.newspapers.com/
Washington State Library Digital Newspapers:
https://www.sos.wa.gov/library/newspapers_wsl.aspx#historic
https://www.genealogybank.com/

PRIMARILY WASHINGTON:

Marcella Welch, “Letter from Marcella Welch to Emma Smith DeVoe, 12/5/1910;
https://primarilywashington.org/items/show/41495.

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