Caroline (Carrie) Amelia Maxson Wood
1840 - 1902
Caroline (Carrie) Wood, a pioneer in establishing the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Pacific Northwest, was a gifted singer and pianist. Her leadership in the church and her talent led to her choice as the first music teacher at Walla Walla College, now University, in Washington state.
Carrie was born on July 4, 1840, in Milton, Wisconsin, the oldest of four children born to Stephen and Lois Maria Babcock Maxson, members of the Seventh Day Baptist Church. She had an exceptional musical talent and from her earliest years studied music. A newspaper reporter, following a recital she gave at age fifteen, observed, "As a singer she ranks among the best we have heard in many a day. If in Wisconsin we have ever heard her equal, we have not [heard] her superior."
She met James Franklin Wood while attending Milton Academy, a Seventh Day Baptist school, and they married on October 23, 1856. A year later they moved with her parents to Omaha, Nebraska, where Carrie gave a recital at age eighteen that elicited the following response from a writer in a local newspaper:
The principal attraction of the evening was Mrs. C. M. Wood. We were well prepared for a surprise, yet even we were astonished at her vocal powers. Her voice is a rich and powerful soprano, which excels in higher notes. Her trills in the Vale of Chamonix, her warbling in the Swiss Girl, sent a thrill of delight through our whole being.
In April 1859, at age nineteen, Carrie and her husband, along with the Wood family, set out for Pike's Peak as members of the "gold rush." Dissuaded by unfavorable accounts about the realities at Pike's Peak as they traveled west by ox-team, they instead decided to go to the newly opened Walla Walla Valley in the Northwest, traveling on the Oregon Trail.
It was a slow, tedious trip. Six months later, following several harrowing experiences, including the near drowning of her father, Stephen Maxson, when crossing a stream, they crested the Blue Mountains and first viewed the Walla Walla Valley. They stopped, unpacked a melodeon, and accompanied and led by Wood, sang to celebrate the moment. After descending into the valley, they joined with other families in camping by a stream near Fort Walla Walla, which had been established three years earlier. Carrie sang for the soldiers and eventually had a permanent appointment to sing at the fort for $100 an evening.
She continued her music activities after her first child was born the following year, and eventually eight more followed. People in the region stood in awe of her voice, referring to her as the "Jenny Lind" of the West, a title she enjoyed.
Wood's father, wanting her to have more than the melodeon, ordered a Hallet Davis piano from Boston in the 1860s for his daughter and her family. It was shipped by boat down the coasts of North and South America, up to Portland, and over to Wallula on the Columbia River before being transported to Walla Walla in 1867 by wagon. It was the first piano in the region.
The piano was sold the year after it arrived to finance a move by the family to San Francisco, California, in the autumn of 1868, where it was hoped her husband James, who had served as the first superintendent of public schools in Walla Walla, could regain his health. While living there for nine months, they attended meetings by evangelist J.N. Loughborough and J.D. Bordeau and became Seventh-day Adventists.
Upon returning to Walla Walla, they were eager to share their beliefs, and by 1874 they had helped to convert a group of over fifty and established the first SDA church in the Northwest. They met in the Wood home until a church was constructed and dedicated a year later.
Wood's reputation as a singer led St. Paul's Episcopal School for Girls in Walla Walla to hire her as its first music teacher when it was founded in 1872. She would also later claim to have been the first music teacher at Whitman College in the 1860s during its uncertain beginnings as Whitman Seminary.
In 1878 the Woods traveled to Salem to attend the first SDA camp meeting in the Northwest, leaving their children in the care of friends. Caroline was in charge of the singing, and Ellen White and Loughborough were featured speakers. While there, they were contacted and told that their children were gravely ill and they should return home immediately. Three of their seven children had died from diphtheria by the time they reached Walla Walla.
To cope with her grief, Wood traveled with her four children to the new Adventist school in Battle Creek, Michigan, staying for a year before returning to the Northwest. Three years later, the family, which now included a two-year-old daughter, Grace, moved to Medical Lake, a small town near Spokane, Washington, because of her husband's continuing health problems.
She had sung for President Rutherford B. Hayes when he visited Walla Walla in the autumn of 1880. While it was later claimed by the family that she also sang for another president, additional detail is not available. It is possible she may have sung for Ulysses S. Grant during a tour by him in the West in 1868, when they were both in San Francisco and she was invited to sing for "notables."
A decade later, they returned to Walla Walla in the autumn of 1892, one of several families to settle near the construction site of Walla Walla College, a new Adventist school in the Northwest. Housing was at a premium, with only 25 houses in the area. Although they would live with their oldest daughter and son-in-law, Minnie and Clarence Ford, for the next two years, the Woods spent their first few nights sleeping in the construction workers' tool shed, across the street from the new building.
Carrie Wood was the music teacher when the college opened its doors on December 7 and her twelve- and ten-year- old daughters, Grace and Edith, were in attendance on that first day of classes. She was fifty-two. She taught for the first year on a commission basis and then full-time in the following year, before returning to Medical Lake with her family because of her husband's worsening health. He died there on December 9, 1894, at age 61.
Eight years later, Caroline died following a stroke in Medical Lake on February 8, 1902 at age 61. Her daughter Grace became head of a newly established School of Music at WWC that autumn.
Sources: 1850 and 1860 U.S. Federal Census records, Ancestry.com; Doug R. Johnson, "Caroline Maxson Wood, A Gifted Musician in a Remote Frontier," North Pacific Union Gleaner, August 2006, 26; Ralph M. Wood, her son, Life Story and Eulogy, given on February 8, 1902. A copy of the handwritten document is preserved in the file of research materials for the book A Great Tradition, Music at Walla Walla College, 1892-1992, (Dan Shultz) in the Elwood Mabley Archives at Walla Walla University. It is a major source for information on the early life of Caroline Maxson Wood. No citations were given for the quotes in the document; Milton Academy (Wisconsin) was one several schools established by the Seventh Day Baptists as the American frontier expanded westward that pioneered in women's education. The school in Milton was one of three that later became a college. https://seventhdaybaptist.org/about/history/ ; Claude Thurston, 60 Years of Progress, The Anniversary History of Walla Walla College, (College Place, Washington, The College Press, 1951) 6, 55, 56, 60, 61, 75, 97, 98, 101, 103, 107; Louise Kay Unruh Huff, The Music Department of Walla Walla College, research paper about music at WWC, 1943, updated and sent to Claude Thurston, June 1951, 1; Doug R. Johnson, "Augusta Moorhouse: The Northwest's First Adventist," North Pacific Union Gleaner, October 7, 1991, 6; Washington, Death Records, 1883-1960, Ancestry.com; The cause of death for Caroline is listed as paralysis, the results of what later became known as a stroke; "Interesting from Washington Territory," Review and Herald, November 9, 1869, 157; L. D. Van Horn, "Death of Elder Maxson," Review and Herald, November 20, 1879, 168; Interview with Huff by Dan Shultz, October 26, 1989; Interviews with and letters and other documents from Caroline Reith Eros, Caroline Wood's granddaughter, 1990 and 1991.
Caroline (Carrie) Amelia Maxson Wood 1840-1902