University of Idaho

Manuscript Group 54

James H. & Mary E. Forney

Papers, 1878-1889
0.5 c.f.

The descriptive inventory of the papers of James H. & Mary E. Forney in the University of Idaho Library was prepared by Judith Nielsen, July 1979.


James Harvey Forney

James Harvey Forney was born on a cotton plantation in Rutherford County, North Carolina, on December 29, 1851. After graduating from Wofford College in 1872 he moved to California. While employed as a teacher, he also took courses in law and was admitted to the bar in 1879.

Looking for a mining region in which to set up practice, he moved to Mount Idaho, now called Grangeville, where he was selected territorial prosecuting attorney. When Idaho became a state he was elected district attorney for the Second Judicial District. His seventeen years as territorial and state attorney equipped him for the position of U.S. District Attorney, a position he held for four years, having been appointed by President Grover Cleveland.

In 1881 he returned briefly to California to marry Mary E. Belknap of Santa Barbara. They made their home in Mount Idaho until 1891 when they moved to Moscow.

With the erection of the first building on the University of Idaho campus, the board of regents named Forney "provisional" president of the university to "formulate a curriculum and to secure professors for the chairs of learning." Forney served on the board of regents from 1891-1893 and from 1897-1899; he also served as chairman of the board. The University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1921.

On July 3, 1937, James Forney died of a heart attack at the age of 85.

Mary Emma Forney

Mary Emma (Belknap) Forney was born in Oregon to the Rev. Corrington and Anne Yorke Belknap. Her parents moved the family to California where she was educated in the public schools, graduating from the College of the Pacific with both AB and BS degrees.

In September of 1881 she married James H. Forney in Santa Barbara, California. She returned with him to his home in Mount Idaho, Idaho Territory.

In 1891 the Forneys moved with their two daughters to Moscow, where Mary Forney took an active role in the social life of the town. She was a prominent state club leader, aiding in the organization of the State Federation of Women's Clubs, holding several offices in that organization, including that of president. She was a member of the Pleiades and Historical Clubs. She also conducted the correspondence with Andrew Carnegie which obtained for Moscow the present public library building.

The Forneys were very interested in the University of Idaho and Mary was instrumental in setting up a student loan fund, a fund she continued to manage until her death. Several years before her death the new women's dormitory was named for her.

On August 5, 1927 Mary Forney died at her Moscow home at the age of 72.


The Forney papers, which are contained in one small file box, consist largely of personal correspondence, letters to Mary Belknap from J.H. Forney prior to their marriage and letters to Mary from her sisters Cora and Rosa after her marriage to James Forney.

There are several legal documents as well as other miscellaneous material, including two manuscript sermon and devotion books which may have belonged to Mary Forney's maternal grandfather.

The Special Collections Department of the University of Idaho Library also has, in its Vertical File, photocopies of the letters written by Mary Belknap to J.H. Forney.

Series Description

I. Correspondence

II. Forney Daughters' Folders

III. Legal Papers

IV. Miscellaneous


James H. & Mary E. Forney

I. Correspondence

With only a few exceptions, all of the letters in this collection were written to Mary Belknap Forney. The largest single collection is a group of fifty eight letters written by James H. Forney to Mary Belknap between February 5, 1878 and August 14, 1881. These letters deal with his move to Mount Idaho, his law practice, daily events and often the weather. Letters from other members of her family written after her marriage to Forney are also personal in nature.

The correspondence is kept in chronological order; file cards have been prepared which give the dates of all letters written by each correspondent.

An Alphabetical List of Correspondents

Belknap, C.G. (Mary's father) 1882, 1883, 1884, 1887. 6 letters

Belknap, Charles C. (Mary's brother) 1887, 1888, 1889. 3 letters

Belknap, Cora (Mary's sister) 1882, 1887. 31 letters

Belknap, Mary Emma (to J.H. Forney) 1880. 1 letter

Belknap, Rosa A. (Mary's sister) 1882, 1883, 1887. 13 letters

Cressey, Cora. 1886. 1 letter

Forney, Cora (Mary's daughter) 1903. 2 letters

Forney, Emma (J.H.'s sister) 1882. 1 letter

Forney, James H. 1878, 1879, 1880, 1881. 58 letters

Kellogg, F.L. 1886. 1 letter

Mayhew, Judge Alexander E. (to J.H. Forney) 1902. 1 letter

Moore, Emily Y. (Mary's aunt) 1884. 1 letter

Parrey, W.E. (to J.H. Forney) 1928. 1 letter

II. Forney Daughters' Folders

Cora May Forney, the younger daughter, was born April 17, 1884 ,in Mount Idaho. She lived for fifteen years in Moscow and graduated from the University of Idaho in 1904. She taught in Coeur d'Alene from 1905 until her death from typhoid on May 17, 1906.

The contents of her folder include the following items:

1889. Two juvenile letters, scribbled, with only the name CORA printed.

1904. Three letters from Lillian K. Eisinbris, corresponding secretary of the Gamma Phi Beta Sorority, University of Washington.

1904. Teachers certificate for first grade.

1905. Three letters of recommendation from William Wilson Baden, Prof. of Greek and Latin, Univ. of Idaho; D.P. Parham, Prof. of English, Univ. of Idaho; and James MacLean, President, Univ. of Idaho.

1906. Two letters from Chrissy Dollar of Coeur d'Alene.

Rosa Aletha Forney was born at Mount Idaho in August of 1882. While attending the University of Idaho, from which she graduated in 1901, she was a member of the Mandolin and Guitar Club. After graduating she went to Edmonton, Alberta as a piano teacher. She married William G. Harrison, and sometime after her mother's death in 1927 she moved to New York, where she was living at the time of her father's death.

Her folder includes the following items:

1889. Juvenile printed letter to Mary Forney.

1929. A letter from Isabel of Edmonton, Alberta, dated August 21.

III. Legal Papers

There is one folder of legal papers which includes the following items:

Additional Claims to be collected (by James H. Forney) n.d.

Affidavit. Isaac C. Hattabaugh to the Public. November 6, 1926.

Agreement between J.H. Forney and Mrs. A.G. Kerns. July 26, 1917.

Agreement between James H. Forney and Henry E. Corum of Lewiston, regarding a vehicle signal patent and the sale of vehicle signals. November 17, 1927.

Bond of Mrs. Kerns to Patrick Brady. March 27, 1920.

Cemetery Deed. May 170 1906.

Certificate of Election. James H. Forney as District Attorney, 2nd Judicial District. November 1. 1890.

Declaration of Homestead, by Mary E. Forney. September 10, 1894.

Decree Establishing Record Title to Community Property, Estate of Mary E. Forney. June 6, 1931.

IV. Miscellaneous

The items in the single folder of miscellaneous material includes

Holograph book of seven sermons on the Christian's Race. 46 p. 9x15 cm. ca. 1835. This book appears to have belonged to Mary Forney's maternal grandfather, Rev. John W. York)

Holograph book of devotions . 9x15 cm. ca. 1836. (Name on fly-leaf Rev. J.W. York)

Envelope containing newspaper clippings, several of J.H. Forney's legal cases, but mainly social events involving the Forney's.

Funeral Notice of Rev. John W. York. (n.d.)

Forney, James H. Five holograph speeches.

National Inquietude. February 20, 1873

The Anglo-Saxon Race. November 20, 1873

Salutatio Latina. June 24, 1874

May Day Address. 1876

The Beauties of a Cultivated Mind. November 14, 1872.

Forney, Mary E. Holograph copies of five speeches.

Idaho Third District Federation of Women's Clubs. Program for Annual Meeting, October 15, 16, 17, 1919.

University Chapel, Graduates Recital, May 23, 1885

University of Southern California. Graduation Exercises. June 18, 1885.

Speech describing a European Tour, probably by Rosa Forney. 1905.

Typescript of the tribute to Mary Forney from the Lewiston Morning Tribune, August 9, 1927.

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