Edwina Wood: Education Icon
March is Women's History Month! To kick off this month's History Spotlight, we are celebrating the life and incredible contributions of Miss Edwina Wood. This spotlight is a reprint of the article on
Edwina Wood for 100 People to Remember by Richard Hyatt for the Ledger-Enquirer (1999) with artwork by Don Coker.
She was a small woman with large ideas. She worked with little children, but she called big shots by their first names. They called her, “Miss Edwina,” snapping to attention like schoolkids when she came into the room. Edwina Wood’s profession was children. More than that, they were her calling. She was a kindergarten teacher, lovingly called the “Mother of Kindergartens” by her peers. She was the first woman appointed to the city school board, serving at a time of unusual growth. She was director of recreation and a founder of the Boys Club.
She taught the beginner’s Sunday School class at First Baptist Church for more than 60 years, believing Christian truths should be the foundation of children’s character. An elementary school was named for her. A statue in the courtyard at First Baptist honored her. And she is one of the Ledger-Enquirer’s 100 People to Remember. Probably no individual this century touched as many lives in this community as Edwina Wood, a petite and proper woman who with her white hair and somber appearance could have been a model for teachers of her generation. She was born in South Carolina in 1876 – 10 years after the creation of the first public school system in Columbus. She moved here when she was six and spent all of her school years in Columbus, graduating in the first class of Columbus High (318 11th Street) in 1892.
As she was getting our of high school, a pioneer program was beginning that would become a part of her life. Led by Mr. and Mrs. George Duy and other generous donors, the Free Kindergarten Program begin in 1895. It focused on the needs of pre-school children whose mothers worked in the textile mills. Funds were raised privately, and two teachers were hired from Kentucky. They established two kindergartens along with a school for perspective teachers.
Miss Edwina was one of those aspiring teachers, graduating in 1896. Three years later she was elected Director of Kindergartens, a position she held for 21 years. She made $270 a year. In 1905, with the support of newly elected school board president G. Gunby Jordan (pictured to the right), kindergartens were added to the public school system – for both white and Black children. The Columbus system was the first in Georgia to embrace such a program. They were funded by the Free Kindergarten Association, which raised money throughout the community. Her interests soon began to expand. Women were coming into their own in public life in the early 1920s.
Some of the most influential women in the suffrage effort had lived here, and once they had the constitutional right to vote they exercised it by helping change the city’s form of government. With that kind of atmosphere, Wood asked to join the school board in 1921. Leaving the classroom, she served on the board for 20 years. Joined by Mrs. Nunnally Johnson in 1922, the two of them quietly worked to improve the education of Black students as well as whites. For the school system, those were challenging years. The city limits were extended. The present Columbus High was built as was the current Jordan High, the old Spencer High was opened along with St. Elmo Elementary. It was Wood who selected the site for Columbus High, overlooking Wildwood Park – a decision which at the time was extremely controversial. Meanwhile, she was the first president of the Women’s Club, an officer in the school nurses association and during World War II frequently spoke on behalf of the War Bond campaign. In 1937, she helped found the Boys Club of Columbus. For 16 years, she was director of recreation, serving at the time it became a full department of the city government. Under her leadership, a recreation study was completed that cited the need for facilities in underprivileged areas of the city both Black and white. She retired in 1948.
Perhaps her most revered job was one for which she wasn’t paid. For generation after generation, she headed the young children’s Sunday School Department at First Baptist. With her sister Miss Marie at her side and Edith Brannon on piano, they read Bible stories and sang songs, never forgetting a touch of Old Testament discipline. Jane Grogan was one of her students as a 4- and 5-year-old. When she came home from college in 1962 with her husband Lee, the church needed someone to do Bible stories with children. Miss Edwina had recently given up the class she had conducted since 1898. Grogan was intimidated. “They asked me to do the group time and I was in awe, having known Miss Edwina and what she had done. But I did it, and still do,” she said, carrying on a 101-year-old tradition. For most of her life, the stern and proper Miss Edwina touched lives in this community, teaching people how to live for others rather than themselves. To her, the positions she held weren’t jobs. “The things you are interested in can hardly be called work,” she said. Always she was interested in children – even after they were no longer small. She watched her students grow into adults, just like she watched her community mature. “If you are interested in children when they are small,” she said, “you can’t help being interested in what happens to them when they grow up.”
The Stewart Community Home, c. 1929, was originally built as the Linwood School. Its name was changed in 1962 to Edwina Wood Elementary. The Stewart Community Home moved into the building in 1994 to support people in the community who are disabled and homeless.
SHARE YOUR STORY
Historic Columbus is celebrating Women's History Month by sharing some of our community's history through the stories of individuals in our town. There is so much history that needs to be shared, and what you will see this coming month is just the beginning. More stories will continue to be shared each week throughout the year. Our community and our people have incredible stories, and Historic Columbus certainly doesn't know everything. We hope you will help us learn the rest of the story...your story, your family's story. Please consider sharing these stories with HCF to help create an oral history collection. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org. And don't worry, we will keep asking for your stories each month!