Ida Wood was the widow of wealthy politician and publisher Benjamin Wood.
Except…Ida wasn’t “Ida” at all. She was Ellen.
As a a young woman, Ellen Walsh of Massachusetts decided to change her fortune by inventing an entirely new identity for herself. So she became Ida Mayfield of Louisiana. And Ida Mayfield went on to become Ida Wood, wife of Benjamin Wood.
Only after she died, on March 12, 1932, did all of the lawyers and supposed relatives unravel the mystery of her life: Her father wasn’t Henry Mayfield, prominent Louisiana sugar planter, but Thomas Walsh, a poor Irish immigrant who had settled in Malden, Massachusetts, in the 1840s. Her mother had little formal education and grew up in the slums of Dublin. Ida’s real name was Ellen Walsh, and when she was in her teens she adopted the surname Mayfield because she liked the sound of it. Her sister Mary took the name too. Emma Wood, her daughter with Benjamin Wood, wasn’t her daughter at all, but another sister.
To read more about Ida/Ellen, check out the Smithsonian.com article “Everything Was Fake but Her Wealth.”
If you were going to assume a new identity in order to move up in the world, what new name would you create for yourself, and why?