George Worth Woods

George Worth Woods was born on August 24, 1838, in New Bedford, Massachusetts, to Isaiah Churchill Woods and Nancy Smith. His father, a sea captain, died on January 30, 1839, while commanding the brig Abigail Richmond near the island of St. Croix.

Growing up, George attended school in New Bedford, and the family moved to San Francisco, California, sometime in the 1850s. In 1860, he enrolled at the University of Virginia to study medicine, chemistry, anatomy, and surgery. He graduated on July 4, 1861, and enlisted in the Union navy on December 11. The navy sent him to the naval hospital in New York City on February 25, 1862, and he received his commission as an assistant surgeon on April 24. He later served aboard two blockading vessels, the USS Mohawk and the USS Roanoke, and served at the Union hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. He received a promotion to passed assistant surgeon on May 8, 1865, and received the Order of Merit from the navy in 1866.

Woods remained in the navy after the war, serving aboard the Pacific, Atlantic, and Asiatic squadrons. The navy sent him to Mare Island in Vallejo, California, on November 17, 1865, and assigned him to the USS Pensacola on July 23, 1867. He received a promotion to surgeon on December 10, 1869. A year later, on December 29, 1870, Woods married Mary Toltree at a ceremony on Mare Island. The couple had at least one daughter: Florence Baldwin, born on August 17, 1871. Mary died three years later, on January 3, 1874.

Woods became an active member of the Association of Military Surgeons and published medical essays on dysentery, skull fractures, intestinal obstruction, appendicitis, and x-ray machines. One biographer declared him a “fluent and interesting writer” whose published work reflected a “mind ready to grasp the latest and best in medical research.” He also praised Woods as a “tender hearted, sympathetic, and broad minded physician.”

Woods spent the 1870s and early 1880s serving aboard several shore and sea billets, including the USS Lackawanna, USS Tuscarora, USS Wachusett, and USS Benicia. In 1882, the government appointed him to a military commission to help combat a yellow fever epidemic in San Francisco. Woods and his fellow doctors called for quarantines of several nearby islands.

From 1882 to 1885, Woods served aboard the USS Juniata on a surveying mission in the western Pacific. He visited Singapore, China, Korea, and Indonesia and took part in rescue operations after the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883. Woods and his crewmates were among the first Americans to visit Korea. After leaving the Pacific, the Juniata traveled to Zanzibar, Madagascar, and eastern Africa before returning to the United States.

Woods received a promotion to medical inspector in 1888. He spent the next few years aboard the naval flagship, the USS Charleston, which brought Hawaiian king Kalakaua to America on a diplomatic mission in 1890. While aboard the Charleston, however, the king’s health rapidly declined, and Woods diagnosed him with Bright’s disease. The king died on January 20, 1891, and the Kingdom of Hawaii honored Woods with the Order of Kalakaua for his service.

In 1895, the navy promoted Woods to medical director, the highest rank he could hold as a naval physician. The navy assigned him to the U.S. Naval Hospital in New York in 1898, but poor health forced him to retire in 1900. Woods spent the next two years living with his daughter in San Francisco, California. He died of apoplexy on June 9, 1902, and was buried at the Mare Island Cemetery in Vallejo.

Image: Medical Director George Worth Woods (Journal of the Association of Military Surgeons, vol. 8 (Carlisle, PA: Association of Military Surgeons, 1903), 91).


Westward the Course of American Empire: UVA Unionists and 19th Century American Expansion

Name:Woods, George Worth
Alternative names:
  • Sailor
  • UVA (Union)
U.S.S. MohawkF&S
U.S.S. RoanokeF&S
U.S. Navy Medical DepartmentF&S
U.S.S. PensacolaF&S
U.S.S. LackawannaF&S
U.S.S. TuscaroraF&S
U.S.S. WachusettF&S
U.S.S. BeniciaF&S
U.S.S. JuniataF&S
U.S.S. CharlestonF&S
Branch of service:Navy
Commission1862-04-24New York, NY
Muster Out1900San Francisco, CARetired
Residence at UVA:San Francisco, CA
UVA Begin Year:1860
UVA End Year:1861
Residence at enlistment:
Rank In:Assistant Surgeon
Rank Out:Medical Director
Highest rank achieved:Medical Director
Birth date:1838-08-24
Birth date certainty:Certain
Birth place:New Bedford, MA
Death date:1902-06-09
Death place:San Francisco, CA
Causes of death:disease: apoplexy
Person 1Relation TypePerson 2
Woods, George Worthparent ofWoods, Florence
Woods, Marywife ofWoods, George Worth

Naval Personnel Records for George Worth Woods, RG 24, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; “George W. Woods Journals, 1883-1886,” Washington State University Libraries, Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Pullman, WA; U.S. Federal Censuses, 1850, 1870, 1880, 1900, accessed through; "Death of D.C. Woods," The San Francisco Examiner, April 23, 1879; "Death of Dr. Woods," San Francisco Chronicle, June 10, 1902; "Married," The San Francisco Examiner, December 31, 1870; Daily Alta California (San Francisco), January 3, 1874; Obituary, The Los Angeles Times, June 11, 1902; George W. Woods, Robert R. Swartout, and Fred C. Bohm, eds., Naval Surgeon in Yi Korea: The Journal of George W. Woods (1984); Journal of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, Volume 13, 1903; Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 38, 1902; "Dr. George Worth Woods,",