Harriett Woods, The Michigan Daily’s first female top editor and the first female former lieutenant governor of Missouri, died of leukemia Thursday. She was 79.

Jessica Boullion

Woods served as the Daily’s editor in 1949 – when the Michigan Union was still off-limits to women and the Daily had a separate “women’s editor.”

“She had an extraordinary experience (at the Daily),” said her son Andrew Woods. “It changed her life.”

Andrew Woods said her time at the University and at the Daily taught her how to use her personality to establish friendships and partnerships.

Woods – whose maiden name was Friedman – graduated from the University with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.

Many of the editors and writers who worked for her at the Daily were men, her son said. Harriett Woods told the Muleskinner, the student newspaper of Central Missouri State University, in October that her experience at the Daily was formative because while there she supervised male reporters and editors.

“I thought I was on top of the world; I was managing men,” Woods said. “But when I went out into the real world, those men got jobs, and I didn’t.”

When Woods applied for newspaper jobs, she was only offered positions as a society writer, her son said.

Eventually she found work with The St. Louis Globe-Democrat, but her challenges as a woman stayed with her and shaped her career in politics.

Woods worked at the Globe-Democrat until she was married in 1953 to Jim Woods.

Once married, she began working in politics by a twist of fate.

While living in the St. Louis suburb of University City, Woods galvanized her neighborhood by starting a petition to close a street to traffic during construction because the noise kept her children from sleeping.

Soon thereafter, she won a seat on the city council, where she focused on nursing-home reform and drunk-driving legislation.

Andrew Woods said his mother was passionate about social justice and tried to encourage groups like women and minorities who were underrepresented in government.

Her son said that every time his mother tried to run for office, she was told that a female candidate wouldn’t be able to garner support.

Andrew Woods said his mother was passionate about social justice and tried to encourage groups like women and minorities that were underrepresented in government. She spent time recruiting female candidates and helping them with fundraising.

She was elected lieutenant governor of Missouri in 1984 after serving eight years in the state Senate, two years on a transportation commission and eight years on the University City City Council.

After retiring from politics in 1989 in her early 70s, Woods became an adjunct politics professor at universities including the University of Missouri at St. Louis.

While teaching college in New York last year, Woods was first diagnosed with leukemia.

“She will be remembered most as a loving mother and grandmother,” the Woods family said in a written statement Friday.

“But we are also incredibly proud of her life devoted to public service and her passionate and determined efforts to aid society’s most vulnerable – the elderly, minorities and the homeless, to obtain equal opportunities for women, and mentor future generations of leaders.”

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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