Biographical Sketch of Mary Elvira Wood

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Elvira (Mrs. W. N.) Wood, 1853-1928

By Foster Dickson, Booker T. Washington Magnet High School, Montgomery, AL

Suffragist, child welfare advocate, and animal rights activist

Mary Elvira Jones was born on March 7, 1853 in Boston, Massachusetts. She was the last of five children for Henry and Sarah Jones, who were originally from Maine. Her father worked as a locksmith and metalworker, and her mother was a homemaker. The federal censuses shows the family in Plaistow, New Hampshire in 1860, then in Portland, Maine in 1870. The latter census lists 17-year-old Mary living with her parents, while she worked as a clerk in a store. However, the Jones family was back in Boston by 1880, with mother Sarah listed as the head of household. Mary Jones was then working as a music teacher.

On June 14, 1882, Mary Jones married William Nichol Wood. Her husband was from New Orleans, but was in Boston by the late 1870s, when he was not yet twenty years old. The couple had two children, Henry William Wood, born in 1887, and Alma Johnston Wood, born in 1889.

Though his wife followed later, W. N. Wood came to Alabama as the head of the Ensley Land Company. The town of Ensley, outside Birmingham, was founded by Tennessee Coal & Iron in the late 1880s, starting with the construction of a blast furnace and steel mill. W. N. Wood was there by the turn of the century, their teenage daughter Alma then came to live in nearby Springville, and Mrs. W. N. Wood arrived in October 1904.

The Woods were active in the community, and their names appeared in the Ensley social briefs during the 1900s. The couple chaperoned dances and gave tours of the steelworks, and Mrs. Wood led the Easter program at the Episcopal church. However, her chief cause became the Birmingham Humane Society, which was originally founded as the "Birmingham Humane Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Animals." In an April 1911 feature article in the Birmingham News, she is pictured formidably and interviewed as the organization's president. According to Mrs. Wood, she was opposed not only cruelty to animals, but also to children and to "all living things."

That pervading sentiment may have led her to take on the role of third vice president in the Birmingham Equal Suffrage Association at the group's October 1911 meeting. However, Mrs. Wood's role in the suffrage movement seems to have taken a back seat to her work as leader of the Birmingham Humane Society. She served as president of the humane society from 1911 until 1926, but is only mentioned one time with the Birmingham-area suffrage group. Though Wood's level of involvement is unclear, the Birmingham Equal Suffrage Association was successful in leading the charge to create a statewide suffrage association in Alabama, and its president, Pattie Ruffner Jacobs, attended the national suffrage convention in 1913.

Mary Elvira Jones Wood died on November 19, 1928. Her small, flat tombstone in Birmingham's Elmwood Cemetery bears the inscription: "She spoke for those who could not speak for themselves. Animals' friend." Even after her death, followed by her husband's death in 1935, the Wood family continued to be prominent in Ensley. Their son Henry became a fixture in the area, first working for Tennessee Coal & Iron, then in the poultry business, and finally as a druggist. Their daughter Alma married local businessman Crawford Allen Perkins in 1908.

Sources:

Image of tombstone of Mary Elvira Jones Wood, photo credit: Pete Mohney, accessed on FindAGrave.com

Ninth Census of the United States, 1870 Population. Portland Ward 4, Cumberland County, Maine. page 9. accessed on ancestry.com

Ninth Census of the United States, 1870 Population. New Orleans Ward 10, Orleans Parish, Louisiana. page 76. accessed on ancestry.com

Tenth Census of the United States, 1880 Population. Massachusetts, Suffolk County, Boston. page 18. accessed on ancestry.com

Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900 Population. Alabama, Jefferson County, Birmingham. Sheet 4. accessed on ancestry.com

"Men of Ensley Chose Board of Trade Committees." Birmingham News. October 10, 1900.

"Ensley Briefs." Birmingham News. May 30, 1901.

"Ensley Briefs." Birmingham News. October 28, 1904.

"Ensley Briefs." Birmingham News. August 19, 1905.

"Ensley Briefs." Birmingham News. February 18, 1909.

"Ensley Briefs." Birmingham News. April 5, 1909.

"Ensley Briefs." Birmingham News. April 9, 1910.

"Humane Society Head Reelected." Birmingham News. February 8, 1919.

"Club Calendar." Birmingham News. October 14, 1923.

"Birmingham Humane Society Active in Spreading the Gospel of 'Being Kind' to All Living Creatures." Birmingham News. April 1, 1911.

Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920 Population. Alabama, Jefferson County, Birmingham. Sheet 4. accessed on ancestry.com

New York Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Annual Report, Volume 45.

Alabama Death Record for Mary Elvira Jones Wood, 1928. accessed on ancestry.com

Massachusetts Marriage Record, Marriages Recorded in the City of Boston, 1882, page 90. accessed on ancestry.com

"Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Throughout the World," Documents of the Senate of the State of New York, Volume 24, issues 31-37.

Ida H. Harper, et al., eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 (1922) [LINK]

back to top