Reprint from the Capitol Journal
January 1908 by George Putnam


Mrs. Mary Ramsey Wood, Born in Tennessee May 20, in 1787, who crossed the plains with her family to settle in Hillsboro, Oregon, where she lived until her death at 5. A.M. Jan. 01, 1908, was probably the oldest woman in the United States, if not in the world, well passed her 120th birthday, and was buried in the Hillsboro Cemetery. A year before she was honored by the Oregon Pioneer Society.

In Nov. 1905, the writer, then on the Oregon Journal staff, had a long interview with Mrs. Woodat her daughter's home in Hillsboro. The late George M. Trowbridge, for many years managing editor of the Journal, participated in questioning Mrs. Woods on the story of her interesting life. The interview published in the Journal's Sunday edition, follows:

About the time that the American colonies realized the necesity of federation, while the United States constitution was as yet unwritten and the nation still unborn, there came into the world on a farm near Knoxville, Tenn., a girl baby who was destined to witness the marvelous changes that have since transformed the world and to survive out of the old time into ours. The child that learned to lisp when Washington was president in the18th century still lives to talk of President Roosevelt in the 20th century, and eyes that a hundred years ago looked lovingly upon her first born, today smile with a fading light upon the "child of her old age", a woman now past 75.

Mary Ramsey Wood was born as Mary Ramsey on May 20, 1778. Now in her 119th year, she is still quite active and maintains a lively interest in the world and its doings. Daily she walks about the garden or sits upon the porch in sunny weather, to chat with neighbors, to sew, or to live over in memory scenes of long ago. And what a memory is hers! She was a tiny maid when the French Revolution was dyeing the gutters of Paris red; she was a laughing school-girl of 7 when Tennessee was admited as a state to the Union; she was a blushing bride when the great Napoleon ceded Louisiana to the United States, and a proud young mother when Lewis and Clark trampled over a continent to "where rolls the Oregon". And she well remembers her father taking down his old gun, shouldering his blankets and going out to fight the battle of his country in the war of 1812.

Though probably the oldest woman in the world, her intellect is still bright and keen, as is shown by thefact that this last summer her testimony decided a lawsuit and settled the title to property which was deeded over 40 years ago. Her answers were to the point and efforts to confuse her were unavailing. She testified regarding minute details, showing that the years have not dulled her recollection.

We can scarcely realize the marvelous changes that have taken place in the world during Mrs. Wood's eventful life. When she was a child people literally lived the "simple life", none of the comforts and conveniences of today were in existence. Gentlemen still wore the fancy costume, knickerbockers, frilled shirts and cocked hats, while the common people wore homespun. She was a babe of two years old when this government began business. She was 20 years old when Robert Fulton first ploughed the waters with his primitive steamboat, and 40 years old when the first railway was laid. In those old days the spinning jenny was not invented and the trust a thing undreamed of.

Mary Ramsey Wood comes of good old English stock. Her ancestors were all long-lived people. Her parents came from England just after their marriage and pushed on through the Carolinas to Tennessee, where they settled on a farm that was afterwards the scene of the decisive battle of the Paducah Indian War. Here the couple settled and here their children were born and reared. There were 5 girls and boys in the family,and Mary was the 6th child according to the old family Bible.

Kate Ramsey, the mother, died after a few hours illness, at the age of 110, 65 years ago. The day before her death she had walked a distance of 5 miles, knitting all the way, as was her custom. A few years before, the father, Richard Ramsey, had dropped dead from heart disease. He was a brickmaker and contractor, and burned the brick used and built the first brick house in Knoxville.

When Mary was 12 years old, she joined the Methodist Episcopal Church South. For 106 years she has been a communicant and is still a devoted Methodist. Her folks were well-to-do, were slave owners and possessed considerable property. She was married at the age of 17 to Jacob Lemons, a prosperous farmer, and the couple lived happily in their Tennessee home for many years. She was left a widow 73 years ago, about the time that Andrew Jackson was nearing the end of his first term as president. Four children were born to this couple Mary J. Lemons, who died in Tennessee two years ago at the age of 98; Isaac Lemons, who died in Kansas City, Mo., 40 years ago; Nancy E. Bullock, who died at Hillsboro 38 years ago, and Mrs. C.B. Reynolds, who is now living in Hillsboro and who,though 75 years of age, is devoting her life to the care of her aged parent.

For the next 20 years Mrs. Lemons lived with her children, sometimes with one and sometimes with another. They were settled in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and Missouri, and the widow lived with first one and then the other. In 1852 she accompanied her youngest daughter, Mrs. C.B. Southworth across the plains to Oregon, arriving inHillsboro in 1853. She was then 66 years old, but rode a bay mare the entire distance from Tennessee, while her daughter and her husband rode in an ox cart. The party came leisurely, bringing a dozen slaves with them, some of whom are still alive.

After her arrival in Oregon, Mrs. Lemons built the first hotel in Hillsboro. Shortly after she married John Wood, with whom she lived until his death a score of years later. The couple ran the hotel until 40 years ago, when they turned it over to her daughter, Mrs. C.B. Reynolds, formerly Mrs. Southworth, her only surviving child. For many years, Mrs. Wood was postmistress of Hillsboro, until advancing old age compelled her to take life more easily. Since then she has done housework until the last few years, but now confines herself to the care of her person, sewing or knitting.

Mrs. Wood talks in a quavering voice, but very distinctly, with a marked Southern accent.

"My memory of the past is very good. Sometimes things get a little clouded, but after I think a while, they straighten out. I have lived a quiet life and never had much excitement. I never had but one serious illness, which was 36 years ago, when I had typhoid fever, and as a result lost the sight of my left eye. My 'third sight' is well worn, and though I can see out of but one eye, I can still thread a needle or read large type. Since my illness I have been hard of hearing, too, and you have to shout. I lost my teeth 41 years ago, and since then have worn false teeth. A most remarkable thing happened last spring. I cut a tooth. Would you believe it? It caused some irritation and is considerable annoyance, interfering with the false teeth, but it is there all right. I haven't the least idea how it happened.

My diet in recent years has been principally vegetables, though I have dieted myself. I eat three times a day and have drank strong coffee all through life, and plenty of it.I have always eaten meat principally pork, and still eat it occasionally. I was never any hand for sweetmeats, such as preserves and cakes. I weigh about 130 pounds which is pretty good for a woman my height, about 5'3", when I was young. I dress and care for myself, and do not need help from my daughter except when I have a sinking spell, as I do once in awhile, when my extremities get numb.

I plainly remember the war of 1812. My father fought during the last 6 months under Andrew Jackson, but he was a paid soldier. We lived near the highway and I saw Andrew Jackson driving from his home to Washington to be president, and waved to him. We were all Democrats, and are still.

It bewilders me to think of the many things that have happened in my life. I can remember when there were no steamboats or steamcars, and it was only yesterday that the telephone and electric light were invented.

They called me an old woman when we came to Oregon, but I rode horseback all the way, and that was 52 years ago. I remember the Mexican War plainly, and the Civil War seems like lastweek. I was 72 when John Brown made his raid at Harper's Ferry, and although the news didn't reach us for months afterwards, I remember the excitement it caused. In the same years,Oregon was admitted as a state. Why, 40 years ago, they said I ought to take things easy, so I sold my hotel to my daughter.

The friends of my youth have been dead for half a century, some of them a full entury. My oldest boy would be a hundred this year if he had not died two years ago. Even the friends of my old age are gone, and I have only my daughter left. I am hard of hearing and blind in one eye, and yet enjoy life, take an interest in the world, try to be of as little bother as possible.