Alva Woods (1794-1887), professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, was born in Shoreham, Vermont, on August 13, 1794. He prepared for college at Phillips Academy, Andover. He graduated from Harvard in 1817 and entered the Theological Seminary at Andover. In January 1819 he took a year off to teach at the Academy, then returned to finish the three-year course at the Seminary in September 1821. He was ordained in October 1821. He had accepted a professorship at the new Columbian College in Washington, where his first duty was to undertake fund raising for the college in the Atlantic States and in Great Britain. While in Great Britain, he attended lectures at the universities and spent the funds he raised on books and philosophical apparatus for the college. After visiting the cultural institutions of Europe he returned to teach at Columbian College, but it was not long before the financial straits of the college caused him to leave and accept the professorship of mathematics and natural philosophy at Brown in 1824. He served as president ad interim in 1826-27 after the resignation of Asa Messer, and resigned in 1828 to become president of Transylvania University. J. T. Kirkland of Harvard, writing to Henry Clay on January 5, 1828, recommending Woods for this position, said of him, “He is a ripe scholar, well grounded in the several parts of elementary knowledge. He is a good disciplinarian, without any tincture of severity. In manner he is quite gentlemanly. He has as little bigotry as any Baptist I know.” His success at Transylvania was marred by a fire which destroyed the principal building with the library and apparatus.
In 1831 Woods accepted the presidency of the University of Alabama. Convinced that the education of the women who would teach the young was important, he was instrumental in the founding of the Alabama Female Athenaeum in Tuscaloosa, and served as president of its Board of Trustees. The effect of the southern climate on his health and the desire that his son, Marshall Woods, should be educated in the North prompted Woods to resign from the University of Alabama in 1837. Judicious investments had made it unnecessary for him to seek other employment, so he was able to purchase a home in Providence and devote his time to preparing his son to enter Brown. He had time to offer his services as chaplain at the State Prison and, with the help of his wife, to start a Sunday School at the Dexter Asylum. He died in Hamilton, New York, on August 11, 1887.