Sarah Jane Woodson Early (November 15, 1825 - August 1907) was an American educator, temperance activist and author. She was the first African-American woman college instructor.
Sarah Jane Woodson, the youngest child of Jemima and Thomas Woodson, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio on November 15, 1825. Family history has claimed that Thomas Woodson was the oldest son of Sally Hemings and President Thomas Jefferson.
Read Sarah J. W. Early's Life and Labors of Rev. Jordan W. Early, One of the Pioneers of African Methodism in the West and South, free from the University of North Carolina. Jefferson historians, such as Joseph Ellis, do not support the contention. DNA testing of the Jefferson and Woodson male lines in 1998 showed there was no paternal connection.
Woodson graduated from Oberlin College in 1856, one of the first African-American women college graduates.
In 1858 Woodson became the first African-American woman college instructor. She joined the faculty of Wilberforce University, established by white clergymen in collaboration with the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). Wilberforce closed for two years during the Civil War. After its reopening, Ms. Woodson returned to the institution for two years as Preceptress of English and Latin, and Lady Principal and Matron. In 1863 Woodson wrote and delivered a speech entitled, "Address to The Youth." The speech was delivered before a meeting held by the Ohio Colored Teachers Association. Due to the successive considerations of Bishop Daniel Payne and the historian Philip Foner, the work has been preserved.
Three of Woodson's brothers were AME ministers. Lewis Woodson, her eldest brother, served on the founding Board of Directors of Wilberforce University. Her brothers John and Thomas were killed by slavecatchers while working on the Underground Railroad.
Ms. Woodson taught in schools in several communities and was appointed principal of schools in Xenia, Ohio. She taught in a school in Hillsborough, North Carolina, which was established by the Freedmen's Bureau.
Woodson married the Reverend Jordan W. Early. Ms. Early helped her husband's ministry, then settled in Nashville, Tennessee. She was appointed Superintendent of the Colored Division of the Women's Christian Temperance Union.
She wrote a biography about her husband and his work: The Life and Labors of Rev. J. W. Early.
Honors and Death
In 1893 at the World's Fair in Chicago, Ms. Early was named "Representative Woman of the Year."
She died in August 1907.