Courts in the Classroom
Supreme Court of Indiana
Division of State Court Administration
30 S. Meridian Street, Ste 500
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Dr. Elizabeth R. Osborn
Court History and
Public Education Programs
History Project Award
from the National Council
on Public History
Justice Woods was born May 16, 1837, near Farmington in Marshall County, Tennessee, and died June 29, 1901, in Indianapolis.
He graduated from Wabash College in 1859, and was admitted to the Indiana bar in 1861.
William Woods grew up on a farm in Tennessee. Both of his grandfathers were slave holders, but his father and his stepfather raised him with anti-slavery sentiments. His parents were each given a slave girl as a wedding present. They kept the girl as a slave, but declared that she would become free at the age of twenty-one. His father died when he was very young, and his stepfather also died before Woods came of age. After his mother remarried, the family moved to Iowa because of their opposition to slavery, but a male child of the slave girl was left in Tennessee. To obtain his education, Justice Woods agreed to be a hod carrier to pay his tuition. When he was halfway through college and in debt to pay for it, Justice Woods was encouraged to sell the slave boy in Tennessee. To slave traders and owners, the slave boy had become a valuable piece of property. As a testament to his character, Woods not only refused to make a profit on a human being, but he also insisted that the boy be brought north and set free.556
He served as an Indiana State Representative in 1867, and as a judge in the 34th Circuit from 1873 to 1881. He was elected to the Indiana Supreme Court in 1880 and served there until 1883, when he was appointed to the U.S. District Court for Indiana.557 He remained on that court from 1883 to 1892,558 when he was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, where he served until his death in 1901.559
556. MEN OF PROGRESS, INDIANA, supra note 20, at 386-87.
559. 1 BIOGRAPHICAL DIRECTORY, supra note 55, at 428; 1 ENCYCLOPEDIA, supra note 353,
at 12-15; WHO WAS WHO, supra note 342, at 595.
Source: Browning, Minde C., Richard Humphrey, and Bruce Kleinschmidt. "Biographical Sketches of Indiana Supreme Court Justices." Indiana Law Review: Vol. 30, No. 1, 1997. View this source in PDF format.