Woodward Academy was founded in 1900 as Georgia Military Academy, a boys military boarding school. In 1964, the school became co-educational and admitted 32 female students. Georgia Military Academy was renamed Woodward Academy in 1966 and the military program was eliminated from the curriculum. The boarding program was discontinued in 1993.
Since its founding, Woodward Academy has embraced a philosophy of education that asserts the importance and uniqueness of the individual student. Over the years, the Academy has furnished the student many special avenues of success in a structured and caring environment. Our motto "Excellence, Character, Opportunity" expresses the long-standing commitment that enables Woodward Academy to make a positive difference in each student's education.
Although Woodward enjoys a proud and successful tradition as the Atlanta area's oldest independent school, it still adheres to the values which motivated Colonel John Charles Woodward in 1900. Every human being is important; every human being has unique value; every human being deserves the opportunity to succeed. We believe the purpose of education is the development and realization of the individual human being. The nurturing of the potential, the integrity and the uniqueness of the individual is central to our philosophy.
Colonel John Charles Woodward, founder of Georgia Military Academy, devoted his vision, talent and skill to build what we know today as Woodward Academy. In the year 1900, the 34-year-old Woodward took his long-standing dream -- a dream to provide an education for boys that could be compared in quality and scope to leading schools in America and Europe -- and turned it into his destiny. That year, John Charles Woodward, along with teacher Oscar Palmour, opened the doors to the first 30 students of Georgia Military Academy in College Park. Colonel Woodward's wife, Lucile, became an integral part of the school during the early years, serving as its vice-president.
Because of the fine international reputation of Cox College, the community of College Park envisioned their town as an educational hinge in the South. Included in their vision was a boys’ preparatory military boarding school -- a school that they had heard John Charles Woodward speak of so often. Believing in Woodward’s vision, leaders of College Park sold the abandoned Southern Military Academy’s building and its 16 acres to Colonel Woodward in the spring of 1900. The price? A non-interest bearing loan of $1,500 to be repaid “when possible.” After GMA was established in 1900, the building was renamed Founder’s Hall.
The Early Years
Georgia Military Academy witnessed phenomenal growth during its first decade. Student population increased five-fold, numbering 150 by 1910. Fourteen teachers had joined Colonel Woodward to staff a full range of academic, athletic and military programming. To serve the demands of the school’s increasing population, two more buildings and a football field were constructed.
A Homelike Setting
Colonel Woodward believed strongly that character, health and knowledge were the pillars of success. Character, he reasoned, could be best developed in the cadets not only by close contact with the right kind of teachers and coaches, but also by establishing a program of work to keep all boys active.
The Academy’s first effort was to provide a well-ordered, sympathetic but strictly-guarded home life for the cadets. Teachers and their families lived together with cadets. GMA’s buildings were arranged like modern homes, with inviting playgrounds, plazas and courtyards -- a living style quite different from the traditional four-wall enclosed military barrack.
The following excerpts from a letter written by an incoming cadet provide some insight on life during the early years of the Academy.
It has been several weeks since you enrolled me in school, and I want to tell you a few things about GMA. My dormitory is Rugby Hall, [just completed and very nice]. Colonel Woodward measured us for uniforms, gray for dress and drill and blue fatigue for ordinary wear...Military discipline began at once, and we march from one classroom to another and to church. Our teachers all set a good example. They keep their tempers and treat us kindly but very firmly...The school installed new showers in the gym. That makes it a lot easier for us all because we are required to bathe twice a week....”
To develop healthy, strong bodies, the school’s work program required that all students participate in activities and drills. To ensure students acquired those qualities of a gentleman, every day following afternoon tea, students would assemble in the parlors to meet each other and teachers socially. Once a week, Academy cadets hosted an “Evening at Home,” a social event which invited parents and friends to a formal program of music, readings or to listen to keynote speakers. Often, young ladies from nearby Cox College and Agnes Scott College were invited to these programs.
A long- standing tradition at the Academy was the Cadet Corps. In the early years of the Academy, the Corps would parade each Sunday for hundreds of parents, relatives, girlfriends, citizens of College Park and any visiting dignitaries. GMA’s parades were not limited to the Academy’s campus. Cadet Corps' parades on Peachtree Street in Atlanta were usually grand-marshaled by Colonel Woodward himself, riding his personal horse. The Cadet Corps also paraded outside Atlanta, particularly in Washington, D.C., for events such as the Inaugural parades of several presidents of the United States (see Academy Fun Facts).
Activities for cadets included gathering daily in the parlor of the YMCA for socializing with other students and teachers, Academy barbecues and dances.
One of the highlights of the military season came at commencement time for all cadet officers. The officers, in full dress uniforms, would escort their sponsors, beautiful young ladies dressed in antebellum gowns and large hats, before the other cadets and spectators.
The 1920s and early 30s were difficult times for the Academy. Money was scarce, and tuition to keep the school going was hard to come by. However, the good relationship that GMA had established with the country of Cuba resulted in a sizable number of Cuban boys recruited to be students at the Academy. The income these foreign students provided, plus a generous loan endorsed in 1932 by a GMA alumnus, Robert W. Woodruff (Class of 1908 and recipient of GMA’s first “Distinguished Alumnus” award), kept the school from folding. At Colonel Woodward’s death in 1939, the sole beneficiary of his life insurance policy was the school. From that point on, the Academy operated generally in the black.
In 1939, after the death of Colonel Woodward, Colonel William R. Brewster, Woodward’s son-in-law, was appointed the Academy’s second president. A West Point graduate, Colonel Brewster continued to build on his father-in-law’s plans, upgrading the Academy’s academic standards, until the school was recognized as one of the best college prep schools in the country.
In his 35-year tenure at GMA, Colonel Brewster served as a history and math teacher, commandant, superintendent, head of the Math Department, and president, becoming president emeritus in 1961. He founded the West Point and Annapolis preparatory course, which was solely responsible for many cadets gaining admission to the United States service academies. As a result, GMA graduates achieved more admissions to service academies than any other secondary school in the South.
Colonel Brewster was an innovative leader and sound businessperson. He brought buses in for transportation, supervised the construction of four new buildings, and renovated virtually every building on campus -- while keeping GMA tuition low. He guided GMA’s growth from 400 to 1,000 students, reorganized the Academy into Junior and Senior schools, and expanded the Junior school from 50 to 300 students. To serve growing demand and increasing student enrollment, Colonel Brewster expanded the Academy’s curriculum to include post-graduate age young men and younger children. Georgia Military Academy Junior College was established in 1940, but was closed in 1953. By 1950, the first elementary school was complete.
The Academy’s third leader, Captain William R. Brewster, took command at the end of the 1950s, and continued to advance GMA as one of the leading private institutions in the country throughout his 20-year tenure as president. To grow student population further, the first kindergarten class debuted in 1961 and a pre-kindergarten program opened.
In 1957, in one of the greatest strides in progress since the Academy’s Governing Board was conceived in 1932, the Board became a truly independent governing body. The Board abandoned its previous “rubber stamp” decision-making image along with its Woodward family ties. With James Colquitt’s election as chairman of the board, the direction of Georgia Military Academy’s trustees changed forever.
The Military Connection
In 1916, Georgia Military Academy established a Junior R.O.T.C. program. As a result of the excellence and thoroughness of training, GMA alumni who served our country in World War I were virtually all commissioned officers. Some former students attained the rank of major before the end of the war. A significant number of GMA alumni served in the armed forces during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam Conflict, with more than half serving as commissioned officers. Other alumni have served during more recent conflicts in the Gulf War and those since September 11, 2001.
Top Military Training
The reputation of Georgia Military Academy’s military training program spread throughout the country. In 1908, the President Theodore Roosevelt ordered an inspection of the school. GMA’s standard of proficiency was rated so high the president assigned a regular army officer to act as full-time military instructor for the school. He also ordered a full quota of arms and ordinance stores to the school to be used for military drills.
Academy faculty and cadets prepared for weeks prior to the annual Military Inspection of the school, which was conducted by the Department of the Army.