William S. Woods. [A Memorial and Biographical Record of Kansas City and Jackson County, Missouri, 1896]
William Woods College circa 1902. [State Historical Society of Missouri, State of Missouri Collection, P0018-057]

William Stone Woods was born on November 1, 1840, the son of James Harris and Martha Jane Stone Woods. He was one of five children. He 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, Missouri, both in Monroe County. He married Albina McBride of Paris in her hometown on July 10, 1866. In 1867 he 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, Nebraska, and Ogden, Utah. He used the profits from this venture to establish the Rocheport Savings Bank in Rocheport, Missouri, in 1869. Apparently he did not practice medicine after 1866.

Woods moved from Rocheport to Kansas City in 1881, where he became a partner in a wholesale dry goods business. 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 businesses and individuals. Upon assuming the presidency of the bank, Woods embarked on an expansion plan into the state of Kansas. One of his first ventures was the acquisition of the Elk City Bank in Montgomery County, Kansas. Later, he 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, “The new stockholders [which included Woods] have a string of banks from Kansas City to Carlsbad, New Mexico, 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.” Woods had served as a surrogate father to his nephew, whose own father had died in 1875. Years later, Woods’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 shrewd and far-seeing. 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 eighteen banks, ranging from Humboldt, Kansas, to Clayton, New Mexico. These included banks in Oklahoma Territory and Texas. Ultimately, Chandler brought other Woods nephews into the Wichita-based banking empire.

Among the people Woods brought into the banking business at the Commerce Bank was William T. Kemper, whom Woods hired as a vice president in 1906. The bank crisis of 1907 forced the closure of the Commerce Bank. It was reorganized by Kemper and reopened as the Commerce Trust Company. In 1917, shortly after the death of Woods, James Kemper, son of William Kemper, married Woods’s granddaughter, Gladys Woods Grissom.

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. The school had been established in 1870 for the orphaned daughters of Civil War veterans. Woods donated some property in Kansas City to the Reverend Thomas P. Haley of the Linwood Avenue Christian Church for the benefit of the school. In 1890 the struggling school moved to Fulton, Missouri, where it barely survived under a cloud of debt. In 1900 Woods paid off mortgages against the school, after which the institution’s trustees changed the name of the school to William Woods College. By 1910 he was paying for the cost of educating approximately forty of the students who attended the school and supplementing the costs of an additional forty students. A number of the students in those years were from towns in which Woods owned or had owned a bank. Over the years he and his wife 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 Albina Woods’s parents, Ebenezer and Julia McBride.

William Stone Woods died on July 5, 1917, in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. He left an estate worth an estimated $5 million, approximately 10 percent of which went to William Woods College. Albina Woods left a bequest to the college for a new building to be named for her late husband, and construction began on that building in 1919. Woods also left a legacy in the banking world through the banks he helped establish and maintain, and through his efforts in launching two of the most prominent banking families in the Midwest: the Chandlers and the Kempers. 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. She was the granddaughter of William S. Woods and the first woman to serve on the school’s board of directors.

Further Reading

Fairchild, Myldred Fox. Thru the Woods: From Orphan School to University. Fulton, MO: Ovid Bell Press, 1998.

Fulton Daily Sun, July 13, 1917.

Fulton Gazette, July 12, 1917.

Hamlin, Griffith A. In Faith and History: The Story of William Woods College. St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1965.

Jones, Billy M. The Chandlers of Kansas: A Banking Family. Wichita, KS: Wichita State University, 1983.

Kansas City Post, July 13, 1917.

Kansas City Star, July 5–9, 1917.

Kemper, Jonathan. Dr. William Stone Woods: National Bank of Commerce. Kansas City: Jonathan Kemper, 2008.

William Woods University Records (CA6180), State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia Research Center.

Published December 19, 2022

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