Artha Woods:First Black Woman City Council Clerk Passes Away
Posted May 13th 2010
Artha Woods was the kind of woman who, when she entered a room, drew the positive attention of almost everyone who saw her. Those in government leadership positions in Cleveland City Hall speak of her using the terms “elegant” and “class.”
She was often affectionately called “Lady Artha” because of her bearing. Artha Woods was a longtime Cleveland City Councilwman. In 1977, she was appointed to the seat held by Councilman James Boyd, who, convicted of bribery, had to give up the seat. She then won a full term to the Ward 18 council seat. Years later, she was selected as the clerk of city council.
Artha Woods died Monday of natural causes. In recent years, she was a resident of a Cleveland nursing home.
Councilman Jay Westbrook remembers Woods as a woman who was “elegant,” but one also who was dedicated to the people.
“Artha was always quick sot stand up for her community; stand up for what she knew was right,” said Westbrook. “She was defintely her own person.”
During her years as clerk of council, Woods kept up with the many pieces of legislation passed by the councilmembers. She worked closely with then-council president Westbrook.
“She would let me know what she thought even if I did not agree with her,” said Westbrook as he spoke of the woman who worked by his side.
Councilman Jeff Johnson remembered Woods as one of two women on the council who helped guide him through his freshman year.
“One was the late Fannie Lewis and the other was Artha Woods,” said Johnson. He said Woods showed him the ropes of how legislation was passed in city council.
“She was tough,” he said with a smile on his face.
“She was the velvet glove over the iron fist; that’s how Artha was,” said Johnson. “But get her riled up and when she was fighting for a cause, that came out, too.”
She had many talents, which showed themselves even in the earliest years of her life. In 1941, after public protests for Ohio Bell to integrate its office, Woods and 18 other blacks were the first blacks hired by the telephone company. All the black women operated elevators at Ohio Bell’s headquarters on Huron Road in downtown Cleveland.
When she learned black women had to sit at a separate table from white women in the cafeteria, Woods began to boycott the room.
She persevered at the company during her 40 years with Ohio bell. She retired from the company as a public relations manager. She was also involved with a modeling school for young women. She even managed two boxers.
At Cleveland City Council’s committee room, Woods’ portrait hangs on the wall with those of two other council clerks. She has long been held in high esteem because of her ability to bring a relative quiet to political arguments on the council floor.
That was always quite a job because of the large numbers of councilmembers. When Woods joined the council, she was one of 33. Later, the council was pared down to a lesser number.
When Woods retired from the clerk of council job in the late 1990s. ther were tributes in her honor at city hall. When she died Monday, many at City Hall took notice.
“She made advancements for women, for African-Americans, for community residents and for City Hall,” said Westbrook. “She was a real voice for people.”
Johnson called her a “giant.”
The impression she left was the same one she brought — dedication to the people and dignity for herself. Her longtime friend, community activist and former Cleveland School Board member Stanley Tolliver, called woods “a remarkable woman.”
Her funeral will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at Liberty Hill Baptist Church, 8206 Euclid Ave., in Cleveland. It will follow a 10 a.m. wake for the woman many in City Hall called “Lady Artha.”
Records put her age at 99, 90, or 88. Tolliver said she was 90. Whatever was her age, Woods left a strong and positive impression at Cleveland City Hall and throughout the Northeast Ohio community.