Jewel Alma Woodard Simon, an African American mathematics teacher, poet, and internationally-acclaimed artist, was born on July 28, 1911, in Houston, Texas, to Chester Arthur Woodard and Rachel Lee (Williams) Woodard. The family lived in Houston’s Fifth Ward, and she attended Crawford Elementary School and “Old Colored High.” At her high school, which did not offer an art program, she was recognized for her artistic talents. A particularly studious young woman, Jewel Woodard graduated at fifteen as the valedictorian.
After her high school graduation, Woodard attended Atlanta University, where she received a bachelor of science degree in mathematics in 1930 and graduated summa cum laude. She returned to Houston in 1931, following her graduation, and she began a career as a math teacher at Jack Yates High School. Within six months of accepting her teaching position, Woodard became the head of the mathematics department. On February 19, 1939, Woodard married Edward Lloyd Simon in Houston and quit teaching. In 1941 the Simons moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where Jewel Simon cared for the couple’s two children, Ed Jr. and Margaret Jewel, and tended to the family household.
Simon did not let her duties as a housewife deter her from following her passions. She continued her artistic education from home and learned painting and sculpting techniques from Hale Woodruff and Alice Dunbar, respectively. In 1950 she earned the Bronze Woman of the Year in Fine Arts award. Her studies led to the production of award-winning pieces. However, as an African American woman in the mid-twentieth century South, racial discrimination limited Simon’s ability to copyright her artwork during the 1940s. In fact, it was a full decade later, in 1952, before Simon copyrighted her art.
Simon went on to study at the Atlanta School of Art, where she became the first African American student to graduate from the institution with a bachelor of fine arts in 1967. In 1966 she was awarded the John Hope Award for the Best Landscape. Aside from her figurative sculptures, Simon painted cities, landscapes, and seascapes. Her many works included pieces with such evocative titles as Neon City, Teen Enigma, Dance of the Paper Dolls, Cloud Calligraphy, and Poverty’s Play Pen. Her artwork was put on exhibit both at home and around the world, including New York, California, Texas, Denmark, Sweden, the U.S.S.R., New Zealand, and West Germany. She was a member of various clubs and associations, including the American Association of University Women, National Conference of Artists, and Church Women United. She also sat on the board of directors for the Girls Club of America.
In addition to her prestige as an artist, Simon was a published poet. Her career as a poet officially began in 1984 after the death of her husband. She drew on her own personal history as an African American woman, daughter, wife, and mother to produce her poetry, which earned Simon the Golden Poet Award in 1985. In published collections of her poetry, Simon’s artwork was featured as well.
As time passed, she continued to produce artwork, but she also maintained a connection with her family and friends. Even into her eighties, Simon supported her community by playing music for her church Sunday school group. Permanent collections of her work were placed in Atlanta University, the Carnegie Institute, University of Maryland, and other institutions. Jewel Alma Woodard Simon passed away on December 16, 1996, in the Atlanta area.