(John) Douglass Woodruff, historian and journalist, was born 8 May 1897 in Wimbledone, England, the son of Cumberland Woodruff and Emily Louisa Hewett. He was educated at St. Augustine's, Ramsgate; Downside School; and New College, Oxford. His Oxford career was one of distinction: He won the Lothian prize (1921); received First Class Honors in Modern History (1923); and was elected President of the Union (1923). In addition he was Chairman of the Independent Liberal Club and the New College Essay Society. It was said his only vice was grape-nutes! On leaving Oxford, he became a member of the Oxford Union debating team that travelled through the United States, and later round the world. A fellow team member was his lifelong friend Christopher Hollis.
In 1933, Woodruff married the Hon. Marie Immaculee Acton, the daughter of the 2nd Lord Acton. Mrs. Woodruff, who shared many of her husband's interests, worked closely with various Catholic relief organizations in Europe after the Second World War and her correspondence to Woodruff during this period forms an important and interesting portion of the Papers.
Woodruff's career includes more than a half-century of achievements. He served with the British Foreign Office in Holland from 1917 to 1919. From 1923 until 1924 he was a lecturer in History at Sheffield University, but in 1926 he joined the editorial staff of the Times, contributing witty and informative "leaders." Indeed he is credited with inventing the "fourth leader," a light-hearted piece on some extraordinary bit of news. Although he maintained this position until 1938, Woodruff was also a BBC staff member from 1934 - 1936, and in addition was director of press publcity for the Empire Marketing Board from 1931 - 1933. In 1936, Woodruff assumed the editorship of The Tablet, a Catholic weekly journal and the oldest organ of the Catholic Church in England, which was to become an outlet for his intellectual and spiritual views. By the time of his retirement in 1967 he had made the Tablet not only the leading English Catholic weekly but also one of the most influential papers in Great Britain and Europe, particularly in the area of international affairs. As one might expect, the Woodruff Papers contain an extense collection of Tablet-related materials.
Among his other numerous activities were his positions as Deputy Chairman of Burns & Oats (1948 - 1962); Director of Hollis & Carter (1948 - 1962); and Chairman of the Allied Circle (1947 - 1962). He received many honors, the most notable being the papal Grand Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great (1968).
A prolific writer, Woodruff's major books are: Plato's American Republic (1926); The British Empire (1929); Plato's Britannia (1930); Charlemagne (1934); Talking at Random (1941); The Tichborne Claimant (1957); and The Life and Times of Alfred the Great (1974). He died in 1978.