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C. Vann Woodward papers

Call Number: MS 1436

Scope and Contents

The C. Vann Woodward papers are a rich resource for studying the professonal life of one of the leading twentieth century American historians and the evolution of the teaching and writing of the history of the South during his lifetime. The arrangement of the papers into six series corresponds to groups of materials as they were found in Woodward's home. The heart (and majority) of the collection consists of correspondence and writings. From the correspondence the reseacher gains an understanding of the thought process that went into Woodward's approach to studying, writing, and teaching history. It also documents the collegial world of criticism that Woodward so highly valued. Woodward's friends, colleagues, and acquaintances included the leading lights in the history profession. Through letters that combined "candor with civility" they critiqued and commented on his research and writings, and he did the same for them. His relationships with his graduate students, as mentor directing pioneering research into new aspects of Southern history, professional colleague, and friend, is well documented in his letters to and from them. Of particular value in the Writing series are a number of unpublished short writings on a range of topics.

There is only scattered documentation of Woodward's involvement in the civil rights movement and its location is noted in the various series descriptions. There are photographs of him in the Writings series (Books - Mary Chesnut's Civil War- Photographs) and in the Personal series (Photographs, and Portrait unveiling).


  • 1804-2004
  • Majority of material found within 1804 - 2000


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research. Original computer files may not be accessed due to their fragility. Researchers must consult access copies. Copies of commercially produced audiovisual materials contained in this collection cannot be made for researcher use outside of the repository.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by C. Vann Woodward has been transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of C. Vann Woodward, 1993 and 1995; gift of Susan L. Woodward, 2000; gift of Charles Joyner, 2005.


Arranged in six series and two additions: I. Correspondence, 1926-2000. II. Writings, 1935-1998. III. Subject files, 1947-1997. IV. Research files, 1873-1960. V. Yale, 1944-1997. VI. Personal, 1804-2000.


40.26 Linear Feet (97 boxes)

2493.54 Megabytes

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, writings, topical files, and an interview, primarily documenting the professional career of historian C. Vann Woodward.

Biographical / Historical

Once hailed as the "dean of American History," C. Vann Woodward left an indelible mark on the study of history through a career that spanned seven decades. With considerable literary skill and a keen understanding of the region and its myths, Woodward fashioned revisionist interpretations of economic, political, and racial divides in the post-Reconstruction, or "New," South that helped to introduce the study of southern history to scholars and students outside both the region and the field. He shattered heroic images of "Bourbon" Democrats and the booster ideal of a truly prosperous and "redeemed" New South, argued that the phenomenon of segregation was relatively recent and therefore reversible, and on the whole turned a more critical and analytical eye toward a field of study that had long been marred by sentimental and apologist scholarship. Woodward's writing laid a new foundation for the study of the South, and his seminal works are basic texts for students of southern history.

Comer Vann Woodward was born on November 13, 1908, in Vanndale, Arkansas, to Hugh Alison Woodward, a school administrator, and Bessie Vann Woodward, whose ancestors founded Vanndale. After attending grade school and two years of college in his home state, Woodward moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to attend Emory University, where his uncle, Comer Woodward, was dean of students. He graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1930. In between teaching jobs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Woodward enrolled in graduate school at Columbia University. While in New York he met W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, and other figures of the Harlem Renaissance. After receiving an M.A. in political science in 1932, Woodward returned to Georgia Tech and became involved in a campaign to raise funds for the defense of Angelo Herndon, an African-American communist and civil rights advocate who was being tried on a death penalty charge of inciting insurrection. He also became friends with Will Alexander, head of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, and J. Saunders Redding, a prominent African American writer who taught at Atlanta University. In 1933, Woodward lost his job, a misfortune he blamed on budget cutbacks, though the administration had admonished him for his involvement in the Herndon case. After a brief turn as a surveyor of rural poverty in Georgia for the Works Progress Administration, he decided to enter graduate school at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. While there he hoped to complete a biography he had begun writing about Populist leader Tom Watson.

While a student in Chapel Hill, Woodward met Glenn Boyd MacLeod, whom he married in December 1937, just after receiving his Ph.D. The following year he published his dissertation. The success of Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel led to an invitation from Charles Ramsdell, editor of the History of the South series, for Woodward to write the volume on the New South. While doing research for the book, Woodward held a string of teaching jobs at the University of Florida (1937-1939), the University of Virginia (1939-1940), and Scripps College (1940-1943). On February 17, 1943, his only child, Peter Vincent, was born. Later that year, Woodward left Scripps for a three-year stint in the U.S. Naval Reserve, where he wrote classified accounts of naval battles for the Office of Naval Intelligence. One of his unclassified accounts, The Battle for Leyte Gulf, was published in 1947. That same year he accepted a teaching position at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. While still working on his book for the southern history series, Woodward published Reunion and Reaction: the Compromise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction, based on his research for the early chapters of the New South book.

Woodward's long-awaited volume on the New South was finally published in 1951. Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 won the prestigious Bancroft Prize and cemented Woodward's reputation as one of the foremost authorities on the American South. From 1951 to 1952 he served as president of the Southern Historical Association. In 1954 he delivered the James W. Richards lectures at the University of Virginia, and in 1954-1955 he served as the Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University.

Woodward's efforts on behalf of the civil rights movement in the 1950s also garnered much attention. In 1953 the N.A.A.C.P. invited Woodward and John Hope Franklin to assist in preparing a brief for the celebrated Brown vs Board of Education Supreme Court case. Two years later his Richards lectures, which boldly challenged prevailing histories of segregation in the South, were published as a best-selling book called The Strange Career of Jim Crow. The book was so influential that Martin Luther King, Jr. later called it "the historical Bible of the civil rights movement."

The 1960s and 1970s were perhaps Woodward's most productive years as a scholar. In the late 1950s he began co-editing the Oxford History of the United States series with Richard Hofstadter. In 1960, he published The Burden of Southern History and edited George Fitzhugh's Cannibals All!, and the following year he joined the Yale faculty as Sterling professor of history. In 1968 he edited a collection of essays by some of the most noted scholars of American History, published as The Comparative Approach to American History. He also served overlapping terms as president of both the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association in 1968-1969. His only son, Peter Vincent, died in 1969, at age 26, a few months before Woodward delivered his presidential address to the American Historical Association. In 1974, after a speech at Yale by controversial genetecist William B. Schockley was disrupted, Woodward headed a panel to outline the university's policy on freedom of speech. The Woodward Report, as it became known, still defines Yale's position on the right to free speech on campus.

Woodward retired from teaching at Yale in 1977, but he remained an active and productive historian. In addition to publishing numerous articles and book reviews, he edited Mary Chesnut's Civil War, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1982. That same year, his wife, Glenn, died. In 1986 Woodward published Thinking Back: the Perils of Writing History, a retrospective look at his career and his critics. He was active in public life right up until his death. In October 1998, he co-sponsored a statement signed by 400 historians that denounced the impeachment of President Clinton. A month later, at the annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association, generations of southern historians marked Woodward's ninetieth birthday with a celebration of his life and work. He died on December 17, 1999, at the age of 91, in Hamden, Connecticut.

Guide to the C. Vann Woodward Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Tammy Ingram and Christine Weideman
January 2004
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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