Charles A. Woods, Wofford’s first prominent judge

Wofford alumni have long held important positions in the judiciary, and the man who began that tradition was an 1872 graduate named Charles A. Woods.

A Marion native, Woods came to Wofford in 1868, joining a class that included William A. Rogers (the founder of Kappa Alpha) and A. Coke Smith (later a faculty member and Methodist bishop).  His 1872 commencement address was entitled “Balance of Forces.”  Leaving Wofford, he taught school in Darlington County, which was his home, for a year while reading borrowed law books.  In 1873, he passed the bar exam and was sworn into the bar in Chesterfield, SC.  In July 1873, he moved to Marion, SC where he established a law practice.  In 1875, he formed a partnership with Henry McIver, which lasted until McIver was elected to the state supreme court in 1877.

For the next 25 years, Woods continued his law practice in Marion and throughout the Pee Dee.  His reputation grew to the point that in 1901, the trustees of the University of South Carolina elected him to the university’s presidency without him having sought the job.  He decided that he’d rather continue to practice law than preside over the university, and the next year, he was elected president of the South Carolina Bar Association.  He also served his alma mater as a member of the board of trustees from 1898 to 1907.

In February 1903, a vacancy on the state supreme court occurred when his old law mentor and partner, Chief Justice McIver died, and the General Assembly elevated another justice to the chief justiceship.  To that vacancy, they elected Charles A. Woods.  This offer he accepted, and he served the next decade as an associate justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Justice Woods was an active citizen of Marion, and his nephew, who had joined him before his election to the bench, continued to practice.  Justice Woods also was involved in building Marion’s library, both in raising the funds to buy property for it, and also in requesting a Carnegie grant to construct it.  An address in his archives file indicates he gave an address in Greenville to support building a library in that city.

In most cases, elevation to the South Carolina Supreme Court would have been about as high a judicial office as a South Carolina lawyer might attain.  However, in 1913, Justice Woods was nominated and appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, becoming (I think) the first Wofford graduate to have served as a federal judge.  He served the final twelve years of his life on the 4th circuit in Richmond, and at the time of his death in 1925, was the senior and presiding judge.

A number of his fellow alumni followed him into both positions – the state supreme court and the fourth circuit court of appeals, but it’s worth remembering an alum and attorney who was the first Wofford graduate to serve in each of those positions.

By Phillip Stone

I've been the archivist of Wofford College and the South Carolina United Methodist since 1999. I'll be sharing college, Methodist, and local history, documents, photographs, and other interesting stories on this blog, which I've been keeping since December 2007.