Geraldine Pittman Woods (1921-1999)

Geraldine Pittman Woods
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Geraldine Woods is known for her lifelong dedication in using science to contribute to community service, and her establishment of programs that give opportunities to people of color in STEM fields.

Woods was born on January 29, 1921 in West Palm Beach, Florida to parents Susie and Oscar Pittman. After graduating from high school in 1938, she attended Talladega College. In 1940, Woods transferred to Howard University.

After graduating from Howard University in 1942, Woods attended a Radcliffe College and Harvard University partnership program, ultimately earning a Master of Science in 1943 and a Ph.D. in neuroembryology in 1945. During that year, she was also elected into Phi Beta Kappa, a national honors society.

After earning her doctorate, Woods became an instructor at Howard University.  While there she met her eventual husband Robert Woods, who was going to school for dentistry. They relocated to Los Angeles, California and had three children together, Jan, Jerri, and Robert.

In 1963, Woods began a four-year term on the Personnel Board of the California Department of Employment and in 1964, she became a member of both the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGM) and the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Additionally, Woods, a member of Delta Sigma Theta, an African American sorority, served as its national president from 1963 to 1967. While president she helped establish the Delta Research and Educational Foundation (DREF), a nonprofit that aids organizations with community service.  In 1964, Woods became the first African American woman to be appointed to the National Advisory General Medical Services Council which focused on improving science and research education for people of color.

Woods’ advocacy work brought her to the attention of First Lady Claudia Alta (Lady Bird) Johnson who in 1965 invited her to the White House to help launch the Head Start Program. This nationwide program worked to increase educational opportunity for poor children. In 1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Woods Chairman of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services in 1968.

Woods remained incredibly active in many public and private organizations that assisted people of color. She contacted senators in her time at the NIH to improve research facilities and science curriculum at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), was vice chair of the Community Relations Conference of Southern California from 1968 to 1972 and initiated both the Minority Access to Research Careers Program and the Minority Biomedical Research Support Programs. These are national programs that aided HCBUs in their development of scientific curricula. Additionally, Woods headed Howard University’s Board of Trustees from 1975 to 1988.

During her lifetime Woods earned honorary degrees from Benedict CollegeTalladega CollegeFisk UniversityBennett CollegeMeharry Medical College, and Howard University. Additionally, she was given the Mary Church Terrell Award and the Scroll of Merit of the National Medical Association in 1979, the Howard University Achievement Award in 1980, and a Distinguished Leadership Achievement Award in 1987. In 1994, the Geraldine P. Woods Sciences Award was established by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Woods retired from her leadership positions in 1991. After a long illness, she died on December 27, 1999 in her home in Washington, D.C. She was 78.