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Remembering Beaverton: Our Town – Our Story: The Woman Whose Life Spanned 3 Centuries, 1787 to 1908

| June 1, 2014 | 0 Comments

10 Mary Ramsey WoodWhen Mary Ramsey Lemons Wood died January 1, 1908 in Hillsboro, regional newspapers proclaimed her the oldest person in the United States, or possibly, who had ever lived. Although the Guinness Book of World Records has never verified the claim and federal census records provide conflicting data, this version has been retold and cherished for more than 100 years.

Her remarkable life began in May 1787 near present-day Knoxville, Tennessee, where she was born to English immigrants. She married farmer Jacob Lemons in 1804 in Washington County, Tennessee and bore four children: Mary Jane (1806-1904), Isaac (1809-1866), Nancy (1816-1868), Catherine (1830-1909). They moved to Alabama, then Georgia, where Jacob died in 1839. A decade later she relocated to Missouri to live close to her offspring. At age 65 she accompanied Nancy and Catherine and their families, riding her favorite mare, landing in Washington County, Oregon Territory after a strenuous journey of six months and 2,000 miles.

Her second marriage was to John Wood in 1854. Shortly after, the duo built and managed the Commercial Hotel in Hillsboro, until his 1867 death. A skilled midwife, Mary offered her services for many years until age prevented regular rounds. At one time, she also served as the town’s postmaster in the 1870s.

In June 1907 Oregon politician and judge George Williams declared her Mother Queen of Oregon, an honor bestowed annually by the Oregon Pioneer Association of Portland to the oldest living female pioneer. By then the 120 year-old was living with her daughter Catherine Reynolds and suffering from partial loss of hearing and vision in the left eye, the result of typhoid fever. Nevertheless, she continued to enjoy her garden, take an active interest in community affairs and politics, and sit on the porch to visit with neighbors. George Putnam, reporter for the (Portland) Oregon Journal had done an in-depth interview in late 1905. In a distinct Southern accent, she recalled the War of 1812 and John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. “A most remarkable thing happened last spring. I cut a tooth. Would you believe it?” “My diet in recent years has been principally vegetables…I eat three times a day and have drank strong coffee all through my life…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”. I dress and care for myself.” “And yet I enjoy life, take an interest in the world, and try to be of as little bother as possible.”

The super-centenarian (anyone 110 years or more), who lived under every president from George Washington to Theodore Roosevelt, was a toddler when Washington was inaugurated and a teenager when Lewis and Clark set out on their epic exploration. She died at 120 years, seven months, and eleven days and was buried in Hillsboro’s Pioneer Cemetery. “First Mother Queen of Oregon Pioneers” is engraved on her gravestone.

By Ann Koppy, Society Historian

For more information, contact: Beaverton History Center, 503-430-0106

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Category: Beaverton History, Community Stories

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