WOOBY, Philip Francis
Roman Catholic High School, Philadelphia, PA, n.d.; Society of the Divine Word, Techny, IL, 1941-n.d.; La Salle College, Philadelphia, PA, 1944-45; A.B., St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN, 1945; A.M., Classical Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 1948; Studied at Harvard University and was an assistant to Werner Jaeger, 1949-1951; Attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, 1967.
- Professional Experience:
St. Charles School, Philadelphia, 1946-1948; Fayetteville State Teachers College, Fayetteville, NC, 1948; Williston High School, Wilmington, NC, 1948-1949; Instructor of Classics, Howard University, Washington, DC, 1953-1959; assistant professor of classical languages, Canisius College, Buffalo, NY, 1960-1966; associate professor of Greek and Latin, Millersville State University, Millersville, PA, 1968-1984, appointed Emeritus Professor of Foreign Languages, February, 1985.
Awards, Memberships: Rome Prize, American Academy in Rome, in Classical Studies and Archaeology, 1951-1953; American Academy in Rome, Jesse Benedict Carter Fellow, 1952-1935; member of the American Philological Association, 1947-1950; honorary member: Gamma Xi Chapter at Howard University, Eta Sigma Phi, 1956.
“Servicemen Trade Guns for Books,” The Record [St. John’s University] (Sept. 18, 1944): 2; “Wooby Presents Cultural Varia,” The Record [St. John’s University] (April 12, 1945): 3; “Wooby Presents Cultural Varia,” The Record [St. John’s University] (May 24, 1945): 2. Books: Nude to the Meaning of Tomorrow: A Novel of a Lonely Search (New York: Exposition Press, 1959); Lucretius: About Reality (New York: Philosophical Library, 1973). Unpublished plays: The Herb Most Bruised, A Play in Three Acts, Sept. 1954 and The Wild Bull’s Way, A Play in Three Acts, July, 1956. Papers: “An Address to the Classical Association of Western New York,” Canisius College Language Methods Newsletter, 3 (April, 1966): 1-8; “Anima in Lucretius,” Meeting of the Classical Association of the Atlantic States, April 22-23, 1966, Classical World (March, 1966): 217; “O Tempora, O Mores: Classics in Our Times,” Pennsylvania State Modern Language Association, Spring Conference, Shippensburg State College, May, 1971; Panelist, “What You Can Do for Latin and the Classics,” Meeting of the Classical Association of the Atlantic States, November 4-6, 1971, Classical World 65 (September,1971): 5.
Born in Philadelphia, Wooby was part of an African American family with strong ties to the Catholic Church. Several of his siblings were baptized at Philadelphia’s first black Catholic Church, St. Peter Claver, which was dedicated January 3, 1892 in the presence the first African American priest in the United States, Father Augustus Tolton. His mother was buried in Calvary Cemetery, a Catholic institution in Conshocken, PA. This heritage along with his early training at Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic High School and a few years spent with the Society of the Divine Word in Techny, IL shaped his undergraduate work at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN. He was a staff writer for the school’s newspaper, and after ranking among the top students as a senior, he was chosen to give the valedictory address to the class of 1945 which he titled “Catholic Principles of Life.” A short time later he entered St. John’s Abbey as “Frater Aemilian Philip Francis Wooby,” but did not stay for reasons which are not known, but may perhaps underpin the plot of Nude to the Meaning of Tomorrow: A Novel of a Lonely Search, which revolves around a young man named Paul Garrity who is forced to leave a monastery.
Wooby earned his M.A. in Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania in June, 1948. From 1946-1949 he taught at various schools—one in Philadelphia and two in North Carolina. He then matriculated at Harvard University, and while working for Werner Jaeger won a Rome Prize of the American Academy in Rome in March, 1951. While black people had been named Academy fellows in other fields during the tenure of Laurance Roberts (e.g. Ulysses Kay, FAAR in musical composition and John W. Rhoden, FAAR in visual arts), no person of African origin had won in the area of classical studies and archaeology or indeed in any humanistic field before Wooby. During Wooby’s first year in Rome (1951-1952) Lily Ross Taylor served as the professor and Frank Brown held the post during his second (1952-1953).
Upon his return to the United States he joined Howard University’s classics department as an instructor. In 1956 he and the department members including Frank Snowden, Jr., Annette Eaton and Sylvia Gerber were made honorary members of Eta Sigma Phi at the inaugural meeting of Howard’s new Gamma Xi chapter. In 1959 he as the chapter advisor arranged to get tickets for students to attend a production of Jean Anouilh’s Medea. During these years he became interested in creative writing and his 1959 novel, Nude to the Meaning of Tomorrow: A Novel of a Lonely Search was sensitively reviewed by the Harlem Renaissance poet, playwright and longtime chair of Howard University’s drama department, Owen Dodson.
Wooby’s second book, published in 1973, was his translation of Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura. The book’s introduction expressed “sincerest thanks to Professor William C. McDermott of the Dept. of Classical Studies of the University of Pennsylvania, who has read the manuscript of this translation with an eye to its creative originality, its authenticity and fidelity.” Reviewers of the book, Lee Rice and Anthony Verity, found some merit in Wooby’s translation, but others, e.g. Charles Fantazzi, Jeffrey Kaimowitz and Martin Ferguson Smith, found none.
Wooby was very active in his classroom work and with his students. At Canisius College he oversaw the Catullan Club and as advisor to Canisius’s Eta Sigma Phi chapter, Delta Beta, he directed his students when Canisius hosted Eta Sigma Phi’s 38th annual meeting in Buffalo, NY. In addition to teaching standard courses in mythology, Roman civilization and all levels of Latin at Millersville, Wooby created new courses such as “Practical Linguistics of Greek and Latin” in 1971, “Greek Literature in Translation” in 1972 and a beginning Italian class in 1983. In 1969 he established the Millersville Classics Club and was its advisor until his retirement in 1984. Under his guidance, the club performed various Roman comedies in translation such as Menaechmi, Mostellaria, Aulularia and the Eunuchus. He was chair of the thirteenth annual “Inservice Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages” in October, 1978 and during his time at Millersville served on many committees. He also worked with Dr. Rudolph Masciantonio leading Wooby to teach courses in 1981 for the Philadelphia School District in Latin, Roman civilization and etymology as part of the district’s NEH-Funded program “Language Arts Through Latin.”
Philip Wooby was the first Black faculty member at Millersville. His former students at the university including Timothy Moore, Bruce B. Speck, and Michael Katchmer fondly remember him and the cast parties that he and Amelia Reed Beck, who was of Caucasian descent, held in their home. Interracial alliances such as his and Amelia’s were and are still unusual, but even more unusual at the time were the two faculty positions in classics that Wooby had held at majority white institutions. Wooby was in fact in the vanguard of the African American professoriate who were no longer compelled by segregation to restrict their careers to the campuses of historically black colleges and universities. Unlike Wooby, black classicists from earlier times such as William Sanders Scarborough (whose white wife, Sarah Cordelia Bierce Scarborough, taught alongside him at Wilberforce University, Wilberforce, OH for 43 years) had no such options. Without black colleges and universities, Wooby’s academic antecedents would not have had any sort of employment at all in the American system of higher education.
“College Students Receive High Academic Honor,” The Record [St. John’s University] (Jan. 25, 1945): 1; “Seven Anselm Hall Students Enter the Seminary,” The Record [St. John’s University] (April 26, 1945): 341; “88th Annual Graduation Held June 1,” The Record [St. John’s University] (June 28, 1945): 1; “University of Pennsylvania, One Hundred and Ninety-Second Commencement for the Conferring of Degrees, The Dormitory Quadrangle, Wednesday, June 9, 1948,” n.p.; “Three Grads Win Grants for Studies in Rome,” The Harvard Crimson (March 10, 1951); “10 Rome Fellowships for U. S. Students,” New York Times (March 10, 1951):1; 1“List of Members,” TAPA 82 (1951): l; “Among the Chapters,” The Nuntius 31(November 15, 1956): 6; American Academy Report, 1951-1955 (New York: Spiral Press): 57 https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uva.x001428264&view=1up&seq=65 “Drama and Works Prepared for Oral Delivery,” Catalog of Copyright Entries (Washington, D.C., Library of Congress, 1957): 163; Owen Dodson, “Gray Actions and Static Poses: Nude to the Meaning of Tomorrow,” The Hilltop [Howard University] (April 10, 1959): 3; 6-7; Conrad D. Snowden, “Observations,” The Hilltop (October 31, 1959): 2; Phil Butcher, “The Younger Novelists and the Urban Negro,” CLA Journal 4 (March, 1961): 196-203; “New Fraternity Elects Officers,” Buffalo Evening News (May 10, 1961): 16; John A. Williams, “Letter to the Editor (about the Prix de Rome),” Ebony 18 (Oct. 1963): 13; “38th National Convention April 1 and 2,” Nuntius 40 (March 1956): 1; “Summer Study,” Classical Outlook 47 (April, 1970): 87-89; “Profs to Attend Language Confab,” The Snapper [Millersville State College] (May, 1971): 1; “Language Conference’s [sic] Scheduled for Students and Professionals Alike,” The Snapper [Millersville State College] (Oct., 1978): 1; Rick Reese, “MSC, Temple Offer Latin Program,” The Snapper [Millersville State College] (Oct., 1980): 1; Rudolph Masciantonio, “National Endowment for the Humanities Awards Philadelphia School District Another Grant for Language Arts through Latin,” Classical World 74 (Feb. 1981): 301-304; Robert Offenburg, Bob Epstein and Carlos Rodriquez-Acosta, “Language Arts Through Latin, 1980-1981, Report Number 8306,” (School District of Philadelphia, November, 1982); “New Italian Course Proves A Success,” The Snapper [Millersville State College] (April,1983): 4; Rudolph Masciantonio, “Paraclassicists: A Means for Expanding the Teaching of Latin at the High School Level,” Classical World 77(Jan.-Feb., 1984): 167-170; Benjamin G. Kohl, Wayne A. Linker, and Buff Suzanne Kavelman, The Centennial Directory of the American Academy in Rome (New York and Rome: The Academy, 1995): 335; Denise R. Costanzo, “A Truly Liberal Orientation: Laurance Roberts, Modern Architecture and the Postwar American Academy in Rome,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (2015): 223-247; Chris Jackson, “Ishmael Reed, The Art of Poetry No. 100,” The Paris Review 218 (Fall, 2016) https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6806/the-art-of-poetry-no-100-ishmael-reed).
Reviews: Charles Fantazzi, Classical World (March, 1976): 409-411; Jeffrey Kaimowitz, Classical Outlook 52 (1975):55; Lee C. Rice, Modern Schoolman 52 (1975):471; Martin Ferguson Smith, Hermathena (Summer 1974): 91-93.
Personal communications with Timothy J. Moore, John and Penelope Biggs Distinguished Professor, Washington University-St. Louis, MO; Kathleen Delaney, Archivist, Canisius College, Buffalo, NY; Katherine Geffcken, FAAR 1955, Atlanta, GA; Sebastian Hierl, Drue Heinz Librarian, American Academy in Rome, Rome, Italy; Ashley Sherman, Archives and Special Collections, Millersville University, Millersville, PA; Timothy H. Horning, Public Services Archivist, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA; J. M. Duffin, Senior Archivist and Acting University Archivist, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA; Melvin McCray, Brooklyn, NY; Francis R. Wooby, Sharbot Lake, Ontario.
Image: Courtesy of Millersville Archives and Special Collections, Millersville University, Millerville, PA.
- Author: Michele Valerie Ronnick