Dr. William Stone Woods

Dr. William Stone Woods - Namesake of the University

Written by Gary R. Kremer, Professor of History

I have taught history at William Woods University throughout most of the decade of the 1990s, and during that time period, dozens of people have asked me variations of the same question: "Who was William Woods and what did he do that merited having a school named for him?" This article seeks to answer both of those questions.

William Stone Woods was born in Columbia, Mo., on Nov. 1, 1840, the son of James Harris Woods and Martha Jane Stone. He was one of five children. Orphaned at an early age, he was raised by his grandparents.

William Woods graduated from the University of Missouri in 1861 and obtained a medical education at St. Louis Medical College and at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. Subsequently, he practiced medicine in Middle Grove and Paris, Mo., both located in Monroe County. His normal fee was $1.50 per patient

He married Albina McBride of Paris in her home town on July 10, 1866. She was the daughter of Judge and Mrs.Ebenezer McBride. In 1867 Dr. Woods began a general merchandising business in Paris.

The next year, he and his brother established a traveling wholesale grocery business through which they sold groceries and supplies to workers employed to build the Union Pacific Railroad between Omaha, Nebr., and Ogden, Utah. He used the profits from this venture to establish the Rocheport Savings Bank in Rocheport, Mo., (Boone County) in 1869. He apparently gave up the practice of medicine after 1866.

Dr. Woods moved from Rocheport to Kansas City in 1881, where he became a partner in a wholesale dry goods business known as Grimes, Woods, LaFroce & Co. He also became president of the Kansas City Savings Association, which he reorganized into the Bank of Commerce in 1882. This reorganization allowed the bank to operate more fully as a retail lending institution to business and individuals.

Upon assuming the presidency of the bank, Dr. Woods expanded his operations into the state of Kansas. One of his first such ventures was the acquisition of the Elk City Bank in Montgomery County, Kan. Later, Dr. Woods bought or established banks in Medicine Lodge, Garnett, and other Kansas communities.

In 1900, he joined with nephew C.Q. Chandler, II, in purchasing Kansas National Bank in Wichita (which changed its name in 1919 to the "First National Bank in Wichita"). The Medicine Lodge Cresset Of May 11, 1900, reported that "The new stockholders (which included Woods) have a string of banks from Kansas City to Carlsbad, N.M., and their objective in securing a bank at Wichita is to have a central institution convenient for handling the big cattle business of the southwest."

Dr. Woods had served as a surrogate father to his nephew, Mr. Chandler, whose own father had died in 1875. Years later, Wood's nephew would recall his uncle's influence: "My Uncle W.S. Woods coming into my life at such an early age had much to do in shaping my life, especially from a business standpoint. He was a splendid financier and very shrew and farseeing. He was of that positive nature like my Mother, knew his ground and stood by his decisions. He was a bold and fearless man, always true to his friends."

By 1903, Woods, Chandler and other partners controlled 18 banks ranging from Humboldt, Kan., in the east to Clayton, NM.., in the southwest. These included banks in Oklahoma Territory and Texas. Ultimately, Chandler brought other of Wood's nephews into the Wichita-based banking empire.

This photo of the William Woods College Class of 1901 was

found June 20, 1999,

by Joseph Hilton of Leesville, La., and his daughters, Kerri, 10, and Elizabeth, 7. They discovered it in a chest that they had purchased at a flea market. At the turn of the century William Woods was a two-year college, so it's likely that the women in the photograph started their college days exactly 100 years ago.

Among the people William Woods brought into the banking business at the Commerce Bank in Kansas City was William T. Kemper Sr., who Woods hired as a vice president in 1906. The bank crisis of 1907 forced the closure of  the Commerce Bank. The bank was reorganized by Mr. Kemper and reopened as the Commerce Trust Company.

Some years later (1917), James Kemper, son of William T. Kemper Sr., married Wood's granddaughter, Gladys Woods Rubey, who had grown up in her grandparent's home.

William Woods seems to have taken an interest in the Female Orphans School of the Christian Church of Missouri while it was still located at Camden Point, north of Kansas City, in Platte County. No doubt his own experience as an orphan was a contributing factor.

Perhaps even more important, however, was Mrs. Wood's interest in the Female Orphans School. The school had been established in 1870 for the orphaned daughters of Civil War veterans, and gave preference to "Destitute Orphans who had no relatives or friends to aid them." Dr. Woods donated some property in Kansas City to the Rev. Thomas P. Haley of the Linwood Avenue Christian church for the benefit of the school.

In 1890, after a devastating fire, the struggling school moved to Fulton, Mo., where it barely survived under a cloud of debt. Among the teachers at the school was Miss. Fannie Booth, a woman who Mrs. Woods had taught in Sunday School years earlier. Mrs. Woods stayed in close touch with Miss Booth and each year gave something to "Miss Fannie's school."

In 1900, with the Orphans School facing closure because of its heavy debt load, Dr Woods paid off all mortgages against it, after which the institution's trustees changed the name of the school to "William Woods College."

In June of 1907, The William Woods College Record carried the following tribute to Dr. Woods: "We thank God for a man whose heart is big enough to meet this deficit and who recognizes the value of the work that we are doing and its far-reaching influence. Dr. W. S. Woods was glad to have his check for the whole amount, and said it did him more good to give than it did for us to receive. May he live long to enjoy the fruits of his benevolence and the holy joy of doing good.

By 1910, Dr. Woods was paying for the cost of educating approximately 40 of the students who attended the school and supplementing the costs of an additional 40 students. A number of the students who attended William Woods College in those years were from towns in which Dr. Woods owned or had owned a bank.

Over the years, Dr. and Mrs. Woods continued to be important benefactors of the school that bore his name. In 1915 they contributed money to build McBride Gymnasium, which was named in memory of Mrs. Wood's, Mr. and Mrs. Ebenezer McBride. Regular visitors to the campus, Dr. and Mrs. Woods celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary there in 1916.

William Stone Woods died on July 5, 1917, at the Elms Hotel in Excelsior Springs, Mo. He left an estate estimated to be worth $5 million, approximately 10 percent of which went to William Woods College. Mrs. Woods left a bequest to the college for the building of an academic building to be named for her late husband. Construction began on that building in 1919. It still stands on the campus of William Woods University and houses classrooms and a number of offices, including that of this writer.

Dr. Woods also left a legacy in the banking world through the banks he helped to establish and to maintain, and through his efforts in launching two of the most prominent banking families in the Midwest into the business: the Chandler and the Kemper families.

In 1996 the William T. Kemper foundation contributed $1 million to William Woods University for the building of the Gladys Woods Kemper Center for the Arts. In addition to being the granddaughter of Dr. Woods, Gladys Woods Rubey Kemper was the first woman to serve on the school's board of directors.

This article is from the Alumni Magazine dated fall/winter 1999.

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