Naomi Chapman Woodroof

A Life of Significant Yield

Faced with the challenges inherent in being a female scientist in the 1930s as well as the economic hard times of the Depression, she managed to support her husband, raise three children, and produce pioneering research in her field.

Few scientists of either gender can measure their impact by the ton. Yet that is one viable measure of the contributions of Naomi Chapman Woodroof, the UI College of Agri-culture’s first woman graduate. Her research on disease control and peanut varieties resulted in a five-fold increase in peanut yields.


Naomi Chapman Woodroof in Georgia, 1935, inspecting pine sap collection for turpentine production.

Woodroof is remembered as a hard-working, humble woman who did not seek recognition. Faced with the challenges inherent in being a female scientist in the 1930s as well as the economic hard times of the Depression, she managed to support her husband, raise three children, and produce pioneering research in her field.

Posthumously, she has been recognized as the unsung hero of plant pathology in the U.S. peanut belt. "She would be pleased and honored for that recognition," said Cade Woodroof Smith, her daughter. "But it would not have been a big deal. Whatever she did, it was not for her, but to help people become self-sufficient."

Woodroof (B.S. animal husbandry ’23, M.S. plant pathology ’24) was one of the first two female agricultural graduates in the nation. She died in 1989. Her husband, Jasper Guy Woodroof, who established the discipline of food science, died in 1998. Recently, the Woodroofs and their heirs established the Jasper Guy Woodroof and Naomi Chapman Woodroof Scholarship Endowment at the University of Idaho.

Naomi Chapman Woodroof was a key researcher in the transformation of peanuts from a hog feed crop to a food crop for human consumption. She was the first woman inducted into the University of Georgia Agricultural Hall of Fame and is one of 25 women listed on the Honor Roll of Distinguished Georgians. In 1997, the Naomi Chapman Woodroof Agricultural Pavilion was erected in her honor at the University of Georgia.

Woodroof grew up on her parents’ sheep and cattle ranch on the Idaho side of the Snake River, and rowed across twice daily to attend school in Asotin, Washington. Ranch life led her to the University of Idaho, in pursuit of a degree in animal husbandry. After graduation, Woodroof found no opportunities for women in her field. She returned to the UI, earning a master’s degree in plant pathology.

In 1924, she was hired as a researcher at the Georgia Experiment Station. At that time, most universities in the South did not accept women as students or as faculty, but this facility was administered independently. Her first assignment was to investigate a root disease on cotton seedlings. She soon identified the underlying problem and devised a method of control.


Naomi Chapman Woodroof (right), one of the first two agricultural graduates in the nation, in front of Morrill Hall with a friend in the early 1920s.

She then went to work with Jasper Guy Woodroof on a pecan project. They developed disease controls and higher yielding crops. That collaboration resulted in several joint publications, their courtship, and, in 1926, their marriage.

Naomi Chapman Woodroof was awarded a fellowship from the Shaw Botanical Gardens in St. Louis, Missouri, to pursue her doctorate. She turned it down to marry Woodroof and supported him while he pursued a doctorate in horticulture at Michigan State University.

When the couple’s three children, Jane, Cade, and Jasper, were between two and five years old, their mother wrote and published a definitive study of peanut leafspot disease, including recommended methods of control.

"During the Depression she was feeding her children dried black-eyed peas and homemade ketchup, that was all they had to get through," said Douglas Smith, her grandson (M.A. teaching ’87). "Her husband was on the other side of the country working on his advanced degrees."

"She led a whole generation of scientists, those she helped train in south Georgia," Smith adds. "They still speak of her with glowing admiration."

In their retirement, the Woodroofs traveled extensively, visiting underdeveloped nations and sharing information on how to increase yield, control disease, and effectively process and store food.

"She was way ahead of her time," said Ken Smith, her son-in-law. "She was working in a man’s world, but she was not competing, she was simply contributing."

—Donna Emert