Emily Woodward was a prominent female journalist in the early twentieth-century South who became an outspoken advocate of liberal causes. Eschewing a domestic life for a career in journalism and adult education, Woodward appeared personally and in print across the United States and abroad. Hers was a public life devoted to social and political advocacy.
Emily Barnelia Woodward was born on May 2, 1885, in the south-central Georgia town of Vienna, where she lived her entire life. Born to Nancy Barnelia McCormick and John Hartwell Woodward, she attended public school in Vienna and in 1910 graduated from the Gordon Institute in Barnesville.
Woodward began her work as a journalist in 1916, when she became editor of the Vienna News, a weekly newspaper purchased by members of the Woodward family. In 1918 she became sole owner of the News, which she continued editing until 1933, when she sold the paper. During her tenure as editor, Woodward became one of the most visible women in journalism in the South and enjoyed close ties with the journalism faculty at the University of Georgia and with her press colleagues around the region. In 1927 she became the first woman to be elected president of the Georgia Press Association, and in 1928 she founded the Georgia Press Institute, an annual gathering of Georgia’s newspaper editors. Woodward’s leadership brought together various leading lights of the journalism world to make presentations before this gathering.
After the sale of her newspaper in 1933, Woodward published a photographic history of her home state, Empire: Georgia Today in Photographs and Paragraphs (1936). She also became a more widely known figure during the 1930s through her freelance work with the Atlanta Journal, which resulted in quite a demand for her to speak around the state, region, and nation. Largely because of her reputation as a speaker, she was invited to direct an adult education program, the Georgia Public Forums, which was initiated in fall 1938 and was later overseen by the University System of Georgia. The Georgia Public Forums included a series of radio forums for WSB radio in Atlanta, as well as a forum series in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary during the late 1930s and early 1940s. In 1943 the University of Georgia Press published Woodward’s book Forums: Why and How.
During World War II (1941-45) Woodward lectured in England and Scotland for the U.S. Office of War Information and the British Ministry of War Information. After the war she traveled to Japan, where, as a member of General Douglas MacArthur’s committee on education, she served as an advisor on education. Woodward’s connection to national politics had begun when she served as one of the first women delegates to a National Democratic Convention in 1928. She eventually became a fervid New Deal Democrat, and her political and social philosophy resulted in her outspoken advocacy of prison reform and the improvement of race relations in the South. She was a delegate to the Atlanta Conference on Race Relations in 1943 and an early proponent of saving Georgia’s public schools when segregation advocates wanted them closed in the face of Brown v. Board of Education. Woodward was also one of two Georgians from outside Atlanta to sign on as members of that city’s H.O.P.E. (Help Our Public Education) project in the early 1960s.
Woodward’s formal education was limited, but she was awarded honorary degrees from the University of Georgia (1929) and LaGrange College (1946). She died on March 23, 1970, in Vienna. Woodward was inducted into the Georgia Newspaper Hall of Fame in 1973 and was named to the ranks of Georgia Women of Achievement in 2004.