Helen Smith Woodruff

Helen Smith Woodruff Helen Smith Woodruff (1888-1924) was an author of young adult and children’s books that were popular in the second decade of the twentieth century. Born and raised in Selma, Dallas County, her ties to Alabama are evident in her characters, settings, and dialects. Woodruff’s biggest selling book was her novel The Lady of the Lighthouse (1913). She was most notable because all profits from her books went to charity; her novels now are all but forgotten.

Helen Smith Woodruff was born in Selma on June 7, 1888, to Oscar Emmet and Emma West Smith. She was educated by personal tutors. At age 18, she married Lewis B. Woodruff of New York City. After her marriage, Woodruff moved to New York City with her husband and lived there until her untimely death.

Almost all of Woodruff’s books are set in the South. Mr. Doctor-Man (1915), for example, uses the fictional city of Hamburg as a stand-in for Birmingham, Jefferson County, and depicts the struggles of a small-town doctor to secure a hospital for the destitute children of the city. Woodruff also makes obvious use of southern characters and language in her works Mis’ Beauty (1912) and The Little House (1914).

Woodruff’s novels are characterized by their optimism. Her children’s book, Really Truly Fairy Stories (1915), depicts the adventures of a discontented young girl who finds happiness after being adopted by the fairies. The Lady of the Lighthouse (1913), her most popular book, is about brightening the world of a young blind boy. Woodruff donated the proceeds of all her books to charity. The Lady of the Lighthouse, for example, raised $300,000 for the New York Association for the Blind; her play Hurrah for the Girls (1918) raised money for the Devastated France Commission; and the proceeds of Mr. Doctor-Man helped to build the children’s hospital in Birmingham that it advocates.

During her writing career, Woodruff became a member of the Authors’ League of America and served on its executive council. At the age of only 36, she died in New York City on October 14, 1924, as the result of a fall from a second-story window in her New York home. It is debated whether her death was suicide or possibly the result of delirium from an extended illness.

Works by Woodruff


Mis’ Beauty (1912)

The Lady of the Lighthouse (1913)

Really Truly Nature Stories (1913)

The Little House (1914)

Mr. Doctor-Man (1915)

Really Truly Fairy Stories (1915)

Hurrah for the Girls (1918)

The Imprisoned Freeman (1918)

By Love’s Speedometer (1919)

Kitty, Kitty, Kitty (1919)

What David Did (1921)

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