Albert Fred Woods (1866-1948) was the first president of the University of Maryland system. Appointed as president of Maryland State College of Agriculture in 1917, he oversaw the 1920 merger between the College Park and Baltimore campuses, reorganized both the curriculum and administration, and set standards that established the University of Maryland as a genuine institution of higher education. His wife, Bertha Gerneaux (Davis) Woods (1873-1952) was a successful author and poet, penning children's stories and religious poems.
Bertha Gerneaux Davis was born in Penn Yan, New York in 1873. She was the younger daughter of Charles W. Davis, a Berwyn, Maryland lawyer, and Harriet Winton, a descendent of Plymouth Colony's Governor Bradford. Educated in the public schools of Washington, D. C., she began writing at an early age. In high school she wrote and edited the High School Review. Her work drew the attention of writer Frances Hodgson Burnett, whose son also edited the High School Review. Burnett encouraged Bertha and invited her to participate in weekly literary gatherings. About the same time, Bertha's work began to be published. Writing both poetry and prose, she contributed regularly to "Kate Field's Washington" in the Washington Post, to the New York Independent, to the Chicago Advance, and to the Philadelphia Sunday School Times. Her religious poetry, stories, and natural history articles also appeared in several religious and children's publications, including the Christian Register, Christian Endeavor, Independent, Congregationalist, Churchman, and the Youth's Companion. At the time of her marriage, in 1898, her work was beginning to be recognized by the larger journals; pieces were published in Cosmopolitan and would shortly appear in a 1901 edition of Scribner's. In 1903, she published her first collection of poetry entitled Verses.
Albert Fred Woods was born near Belvidere in Boone County, Illinois, on December 25, 1866, the son of Frederick Moffett, a rancher and livestock auctioneer, and Eliza Olivia Eddy. He received a B.Sc. in 1890 and an M.A. in 1892 from the University of Nebraska and worked there as an assistant botanist from 1890 to 1893. He was then appointed assistant chief and first assistant pathologist in the Division of Vegetable Physiology and Pathology of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, moving to assistant chief of the Bureau of Plant Industry in 1895, upon the organization of that department.
Albert Fred Woods and Bertha Gerneaux Davis married in Washington, D. C., on June 1, 1898. Only two months shy of their golden anniversary at Albert's death, the couple had four sons: Albert Frederick, Charles Frederick, Mark Winton, and Winton De Ruyter. Following their 1898 marriage, Albert and Bertha remained in Washington, D. C., until 1910. They then moved to Minnesota where, from 1910 to 1917, Albert served as dean and director of the College of Agriculture, College of Forestry, and experiment station of the University of Minnesota and frequently acted as president. He reorganized the agricultural curriculum, grouping related subjects, and improved department administration. During this period, Bertha continued her writing career, publishing frequently in religious and children's journals and papers. She also became a leader in university society and a mother.
In 1917, Albert was offered the position of president of what was then known as the Maryland State College of Agriculture. Arriving in the midst of World War I, he became the commander of Camp Radio, located on the College Park campus, and was charged with training the Student Army Training Corps. He was also named general chairman of the committees on food production and conservation for the Maryland Council of Defense. President Woods raised enrollment standards, built new facilities, and increased and reorganized programs. By 1919, the college had seven schools: the graduate schools and the schools of agriculture, engineering, arts and sciences, chemistry, education, and home economics. The focus had shifted from the purely agricultural to include liberal arts as a basic part of the curriculum. In 1920, Woods oversaw the merger of the College Park and Baltimore campuses that resulted in the University of Maryland system, becoming the new system president. Under his tenure, the quality of academics continued to improve, and, by 1925, the university was accredited by the Association of American Universities. Woods resigned in 1926 to return to the U. S. Department of Agriculture as director of scientific work (1926-1934), as director of its graduate school (1926-1941), and as an educational advisor (1941-1947). Retiring from government service in 1947, he returned to the University of Maryland in an unofficial capacity to work with his son Dr. Mark Winton Woods on plant disease issues.
Between 1917 and 1947, Bertha continued to publish poetry, stories, and travel articles in a variety of journals. Three more collections were published by the University of Maryland Press: Verses by Three Generations (1921), with son Mark Winton and mother Harriet Winton Davis, The Guest, and Other Verses (1926), and Patient Scientists, and Other Verses (1928). In 1925, she was awarded the Near East Relief prize for a Golden Rule Sunday Poem published in the Youth's Companion. "The Little Gate," [Poems] Opening into Nature, Humanity, Life was published in 1935 and her final collection, World Communion: and Other Verse, a reflection on World War II, appeared in 1943.
Both Albert and Bertha were active in their respective professional, religious, and civic spheres. In 1905, Albert was selected by President Theodore Roosevelt to represent the United States at both the International Conference on Agriculture and the International Botanical Conference. He was president of the American Horticultural Society (1921-1923), the Land Grant Colleges Association (1925), and chaired the first Inter-American Conference on Agriculture, Forestry and Animal Husbandry (1930); was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; an executive board member of the National Research Council and a member of its Advisory Committee to the General Committee of the Chicago World's Fair Centennial Celebration (1933); Chairman of the Committee of Fifty on Scientific Research; and a founder and first president of Gamma Sigma Delta, an agriculture honorary fraternity. He served as presiding elder in his Berwyn, Maryland, church and belonged to both the University Club and the Cosmos Club of Washington, D. C. Bertha was a member of the League of American Pen Women. She was active in the Presbyterian Club and also belonged to the Audubon Society and the Faculty Women's Club of the University of Minnesota.
Albert F. Woods died following a stroke in the Prince George's General Hospital on April 12, 1948. Bertha Gerneaux Woods died nearly four years later, on February 14, 1952.