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Alva Woods papers

Biographical/Historical note

Alva Woods was born in Shoreham, Vermont, on August 13, 1794. He was the son of Abel Woods, a Baptist minister, and Mary (Smith) Woods. He graduated from Harvard College in 1817 and from the Andover Theological Seminary in Andover, Massachusetts in 1821. After his ordination in October of that year Woods accepted a professorship at Colombian College, which is now a part of George Washington University in Washington. D.C.

In 1823, Woods married Almira Marshall (1804-1863). They had two children: Marshall Woods (1824-1899) and Priscilla M. Woods (1826-1827). In 1824 he accepted a professorship of natural philosophy and mathematics at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. After the resignation of President Asa Messer he served as president ad interim from 1826 to 1827. Brown University awarded Woods an honorary Doctor of Divinity in 1828.

Woods left Brown that year to become the fourth president of Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. In 1831 he was appointed the first president of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. While there, Woods helped to found the Alabama Female Athenaeum, whose purpose was to train women to become teachers. In 1884, the first building built on the campus of the University of Alabama after the Civil War was named Alva Woods Hall in honor of its first president.

Woods and his family returned to Providence in 1837, where he managed his business affairs and real estate holdings. He served as a Trustee of Brown University from 1843 to 1859 and as a member of the Board of Fellows from 1859 to 1887. He helped to establish scholarships not only at Brown but also at the Newton Theological Institution and the Worcester Academy in Massachusetts. Alva Woods passed away in Providence on September 6, 1887.

Marshall Woods was born in Boston, Massachusetts on November 28, 1824. He graduated from Brown University in 1845 and from the University of New York Medical School in 1848. The ties between the Woods family and the Brown family of Providence began when Marshall married Anne Brown Francis (1828-1896) in 1848. Anne was the daughter of Ann Carter Brown Francis (1794-1828) and John Brown Francis (1791-1864). Marshall and Anne had two children: Abby Francis Woods (1849-1895) and John Carter Brown Woods (1851-1930). Instead of opening a medical practice, Marshall Woods devoted his time to business and the study of art and literature. He was a director of the Providence National Bank and served as a United States commissioner from Rhode Island to the Paris Exposition in 1855. He was very active in the governance of Brown University, serving as its Treasurer from 1866 to 1882 and as a Trustee from 1858 to 1899. In 1871 Marshall Woods established an endowment of three thousand dollars for a series of lectures on the fine arts and their application to the mechanical arts. However, the lectures did not actually begin until 1919. Marshall Woods passed away in London, England on July 13, 1899.

John Carter Brown Woods (J.C.B. Woods) was born on June 12, 1851 in Providence, Rhode Island. He graduated from Brown University in 1872 and from Harvard Law School in 1874. He was active in Republican politics, serving in both the Rhode Island House of Representatives (1881-1887) and in the Rhode Island State Senate (1891, 1894-1897) . In addition to practicing law, Woods served on the boards of numerous organizations, both public and private. Among them were the State Board of Charities and Corrections ; the Institute for the Deaf of Rhode Island; the corporations of Rhode Island Hospital, Butler Hospital and the Providence Lying-in Hospital (now called Women and Infants Hospital); and the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He was one of the founders of the Hope Club and served as its president from 1892 to 1898. Like his father and grandfather, J.C.B. Woods was active in the governance of Brown University. He served on many university committees and was a Trustee from 1884 until his death in 1930. Woods was the author of the pamphlet entitled John Carter of Providence, Rhode Island…and his Descendants, which is in the Alva Woods papers. J.C.B. Woods never married. He passed away in Providence in 1930.

Many members of the Brown family are represented in the Alva Woods papers. John Browne (1662-1719) was commissioned an Ensign in the Providence militia by King William III of England. John Brown (1736-1803) was a wealthy Providence merchant and the brother of Nicholas Brown (1729-1791), also a merchant, and Moses Brown (1738-1836), who became a Quaker and an abolitionist. Nicholas Brown’s son Nicholas (1769-1841) married Ann Carter (1770-1798) in 1791. They had four children: Nicholas Brown, Jr. (1792-1859), Ann Carter Brown (1794-1828), John Carter Brown (1797-1874) and Moses Brown (1793-1794). After the death of his wife Ann, Nicholas married Mary Bowne Steele (1769-1836) in 1801.

Nicholas Brown, Jr. married his cousin Abby Mason (1800-1820) in 1820. After her death he married Caroline Matilda Cements (1809-1879) in 1831. They had five children. The eldest, Alfred Nicholas Brown (1832-1864) married Anne Mauran in 1857. Of their three children only Nicholas Brown (1862-1891) lived to adulthood.

In 1822 Ann Carter Brown (1794-1828) married John Brown Francis (1791-1864). Francis was the Governor of Rhode Island from 1833 to 1838 and a United States Senator from 1844 to 1845. They had three children: Abby (1823-1841), John (1825-1826) and Anne Brown Francis, who married Marshall Woods in 1848.