John William Woods, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, son of John L. and Amanda (Forrester) Woods, was born in Denton County, Texas, on September 4, 1875. In 1882 his family moved to a ranch in Callahan County where Woods learned to be a cowboy. This boyhood experience later earned him the nickname of "cowboy speaker." He did not receive a formal education until 1893, when he attended school in Mineral Wells, Texas. He attended the law school at the University of Texas in 1897. While a student, he was elected the prosecuting attorney of Callahan County, serving from 1898 to 1906. After moving to Rotan in Fisher County, he became the first city attorney in 1909. Three years later he was elected as a Democrat to the Texas House of Representatives. As a member of the Thirty-third Legislature in 1913, he authored the Married Woman's Property Rights Act, sponsored the act establishing the Gainesville girls' training school, led the passage of a fifty-four-hour work law for women, and supported a high school classification and consolidation law. Recognized for his advocacy of welfare concerns, he received a gubernatorial appointment to the Southern Conference on Women and Child Labor in 1913. Elected speaker of the House of Representatives in the Thirty-fourth Texas Legislature in 1915, he assisted with the passage of the $1 million rural education appropriation law. He also coauthored the compulsory 100-day school attendance law for children between the ages of eight and fourteen, which the state superintendent of public instruction, Walter F. Doughty, called the "most significant educational advancement in the history of the state." Following his term as speaker, Woods ran for Texas attorney general in 1916 and 1918 but was unsuccessful. He resumed private law practice and became active in the Conference of Charities and Corrections and in the Southern Sociological Congress. In 1918 he became a lay leader of the Northwest Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He was a member of the Scottish Rite Masons and Knights Templar and active in the Order of the Eastern Star. Woods was married to Helen Smith of Blossom on December 26, 1900; they had one daughter. In the last years of his life he lived in Baird, Abilene, and Dallas, where he died after two years of illness on April 18, 1933.
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Dallas Morning News, March 11, 1913, April 19, 1933. Cecil Eugene Evans, The Story of Texas Schools (Austin: Steck, 1955). Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 19, 1933. Lewis L. Gould, Progressives and Prohibitionists: Texas Democrats in the Wilson Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1992). Presiding Officers of the Texas Legislature, 1846–1982 (Austin: Texas Legislative Council, 1982). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Woods, John William,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 26, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
January 1, 1996
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: