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Mary Rice Wood, Almost 1st Lady?

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Mary Rice Wood, Almost 1st Lady?
Accession Number
Date Added
8/24/2020 4:14:57 PM
Historical People
Gift of
Robert Underhill
Collection Title
Collection Description
Bob Underhill
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Mary "Polly" Rice (1798 - 1886) was born in Clarendon to Truman Rice (1774 - 1850) and an unknown mother.  Truman moved his family to Elizabethtown, NY when Mary was 5 but then sent her back to this area in 1810 to attend school and live with her Aunt Abigail Royce in Ira.  In 1814 at age 16 Mary was being wooed by Reuben Hazen Wood  (1792 - 1864) who grew up in Middletown.  See the Love Poems From 1814 & 1815 entry in the Music, Poems, Art collection for two poems Reuben wrote Mary before they married in 1816.  They had two daughters, Loretta (Wood) Merwin (1818 - 1890) and Mary (Wood) Mastick (1831 - 1907). 

Reuben's story begins before he meets Mary.  At age 15 Reuben's father died and he was sent to Canada to live with an uncle. It was there that he began studying to become a lawyer.  When the War of 1812 broke out, Reuben was conscripted by the British.  He escaped back to the US and served briefly in the American army before returning to Middletown and his mother.  He continued to study law, taught school, and after he and Mary married he was admitted to practice law in Vermont. After a year in Middletown they relocated to Woodville, NY where his mother had moved to the old Wood family homestead.  In Sept. 1818 he traveled to Cleveland to get himself admitted to practice law in that State and get himself established, leaving Mary & their baby with his mother.  The spring of 1819 came and Reuben sent for Mary and young Loretta to join him.  Their life in Ohio had begun.

Prosperity and success came quickly.  Mary became an important part of the Cleveland herself.  Per the Annals of the Early Settlers Association of the Western Reserve published in 1880: 

Mrs. Wood was cordially received and much admired in western society, not only for her attractive appearance, but for her modesty, intelligence and refinementIn Annals of the early Settlers. 

In Annals of the Early Settlers Association of Cuyahoga 1880 - 1891 there was an In Memoriam to Mary Woods that included:

....well known....as a lady of rare qualities of character.  Her personal friends were numerous, especially among the earlier citizens of Cleveland, who appreciated her moral worth, and who will long cherish her memory.

In Pioneer Families of Cleveland 1796 - 1840 published in 1914: 

In her prosperity she was generous, and for the unfortunate had unbounded sympathy.  In the fall of 1824, she returned to her eastern home to spend the winter, accompanied by a sister who had been visiting her.  The Wood residence was rented for eight months to James L. Conger, a lawyer who with his young wife had just arrived in town.  Judging from a letter written to relatives by Mrs. Conger, at that time Reuben Wood and his wife were maintaining an unusually comfortable and attractive home within six years of their arrival in Cleveland

In 1825 Reuben was elected to the Ohio State Senate and served until he was elected Judge of the Court of Common Pleas.  In 1833 he became a Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court on which he served until 1847.  In 1850 he was elected Governor of Ohio.  Two years later the Democrat Party National Convention was held in Baltimore to select that party's Presidential nominee.  There were 4 primary contenders:  Lewis Cass, James Buchanan, William Marcy, and Stephen Douglas but none could achieve the requisite majority to claim the nomination.  After 35 ballots a compromise candidate was sought and Governor Reuben Wood was considered for that honor. In the end Franklin Pierce of NH was chosen as the compromise, but even then it took until the 49th ballot to give him the nomination.  He won in an electoral landslide 254 to 42 with Franklin Pierce carrying 27 States to Winfield Scott's 4.  Given that kind of momentum for someone who hadn't even campaigned for the nomination, had they given it to Governor Reuben Wood, Mary Rice of Clarendon would have been the 1st Lady of the United States.

In 1853 Reuben resigned as Governor of Ohio to accept President Pierce's appointment of him to be the American Consul to Chile and while there also served as Acting Ambassador.  In 1855 Reuben resigned from that role and he and Mary returned to the US.  He continued to be active in Democrat politics but after the Civil War broke out he became a Union supporter and led the charge in Cleveland to re-elect Abraham Lincoln.  After his death Mary lived first with their daughter Mary in Ohio and then later with their daughter Loretta in California. 

The cover photo is of Mary and the photo below of Reuben, and below that their home Evergreen Place in what is now Lakewood, OH just outside Cleveland. 

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