On October 24, 1831 , when the bell on top of the four room, red brick school on Franklin Street in Cincinnati called the first classes to order in the Woodward High School, founded by William Woodward, it also called to order the first high school in the vast territory west of the Allegheny Mountains . This fact, in itself, was enough to assure fame to any many who wished the world to remember him; but fame was something Mr. Woodward was not seeking when he established the school that bears his name. According to the letters and memories of those who knew him, Mr. Woodward was a humble, quiet, God-fearing man to whom both fame and fortune came because of his industry and his love for people.
Although separated from them in time by over a century, in character Mr. Woodward was very close to his Puritan ancestors who came to this country from England in 1634 and settled in Massachusetts. Later, some members migrated to the richer lands of Connecticut. It was there, in Windham County, on the Quinebaug River near the town of Plainfield, that William's grandparents, owned a farm of two hundred acres. This farm was transferred to their eldest son, Elias Woodward, on September 30, 1763. On this land in a plain but comfortable farmhouse, which stood until the spring of 1913, William Woodward was born on March 8, 1768, the fifth child in a family, which eventually included eleven children. From the books of the family which have been preserved, we can assume the Woodward's were more than lettered - they were educated. All of the children were sent to school, but William was granted more than the usual Common School education. He was not robust; and in order that he might gain greater strength through an out-of-door life not quite as demanding as farming, he was given the opportunity to learn to be a surveyor.
Move to Cincinnati
In the fall of 1791, William joined Levi in the settlement that was scarcely more than a military post but which is now Cincinnati. There was an acute need for surveyors, and William found immediate use for his professions. He did not, however, practice his profession to the exclusion of farming, and a grant of one acre within the corporate limits, and four beyond, made a permanent resident of him and began for him the acquisition of property. A few years later, 1798, Mr. Woodward went back to his father's home for a visit. The reason for the trip back to Plainfield perhaps lies in the document dates, "Preston, July 30, 1797." It says: "This may certify that Mr. Elias Woodward, of Plainfield, and Mrs. Tipporah Cook, of Preston, presented themselves for marriage, and were legally united in that relation."
Like his father, William, too, married more than once. His second marriage took place in 1803 to Abigail Cutter. Abigail was the recipient of a goodly fortune, which was augmented in later years by an inheritance from relative in Massachusetts. In 1803, when he married Abigail, William Woodward build a home of rough-hewn planks from the flat-boats which were knocked apart when they reached their destination at Cincinnati. This house was held together by wooden pegs, one of which is still in the possession of the school.
William Woodward's religion went further than just contributing to the erection of a church. To unknown charities, Mr. Woodward was more than generous. After his death it was found he had spent, in endorsing for friends in need of financial assistance, nearly one hundred thousand dollars. During his adult years he was a thin person of medium height, weighing about one hundred twenty pounds, retiring at nine o'clock at night and arising at four in the morning. Although he was always good-natured, even jovial, he never knew a day of perfect health in his life; yet he worked, even when a rich man, from morning to night, on his farm or in his tannery or assisting in the erection of some new building or improvement on his place. Students who were in Woodward when it was first opened remembered seeing Mr. Woodward working on that part of his farm opposite the school. Among these was Abigail Cutter Foster, the daughter of Mrs. Woodward's first cousin, Susannah Cutter Foster. She inherited the Woodward home, and in turn left it to her half-brother, Seth Foster, who later sold it to Dr. George C. Kolb. It was he who after giving the front door and the mantel to Woodward High School, replaced the house with a theater to which he gave the name Woodward.
As early as 1819, Mr. Woodward had considered some way of providing education for those who could not afford it. Mr. Woodward is credited with giving the idea of providing education for the poor to his friend Thomas Hughes, the cobbler. When Hughes died in 1824, naming Woodward his executor, he left his property to support a school for destitute children. Mrs. Woodward died in 1852, surviving her husband by nineteen years - just a year more than the difference between their ages. The act of incorporation of the trustees was passed by the Legislature of the State of Ohio within a few months after the deed was signed, January 24, 1827, naming the body as "The Trustees of the Woodward Free Grammar School." Three years later, however, in March, 1830, before any school had been opened or any complete plan for the opening of a school had been formed, permission was given the Trustees "to change to a certain extent the direction or application of said fund, so as to enable the said Trustees and their successors in office to establish a High School for teaching the higher branches of learning and literature with the arts and science ..." The original idea of extending "...the advantages of learning and science among those who have not the means of procuring such advantages themselves, "was not forgotten, for an equal number from each ward in the city were to be admitted "without regard to religious opinion or differences of opinion on any other subject."
Mr. Woodward gave approximately an acre more of ground on which a school house could be built. This property ran from Woodward Street north, for the Woodward Street of that time is the Thirteenth Street of today, while the present Woodward Street was Franklin Street. Mr. Woodward did not live long to enjoy his school, but while he was still alive, he was present not only on opening day, but also at an exhibition when one of the boys paid tribute to him and his gift in a speech written by Sam Lewis. On January 24, 1833, fifteen months to the day after the opening of the school, Mr. Woodward died. City Council in a Tribute of Respect inscribed in the minutes January 25, 1833, that having "learned, with feelings of sorrow of the death of their highly respected and venerable neighbor, William Woodward: and conceiving this a suitable time for a public expression of their gratitude for the munificent bequest made by him to the City of Cincinnati...do resolve "That, deeply impressed with the important benefits conferred on our city, buy the liberal donation of our late fellow-citizen, William Woodward: and as a mark of that respect which we individually entertain for his private virtues, -the members of the City Council will attend his funeral, in a body, tomorrow morning at ten o'clock.' William Woodward was a man to respect in life and to remember long afterwards. Yea, his spirit ever lives!