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James Woodall Rodgers: Dallas’ Wartime Mayor

May 11, 1890 - July 6, 1961
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From the collections of the Dallas History & Archives Division, Dallas Public Library

Woodall Rodgers is one of the most instrumental figures in the history of Dallas, serving as an attorney, civic leader, and mayor of Dallas between 1939 and 1947. Although he was not born in Dallas, he became one of the most notable names in the history of the city. Rodgers was born in New Market, Alabama, on May 11, 1890. He received education from Vanderbilt in 1912, graduating with a B.A. and his LL.B. from the University of Texas in 1915.

His journey in Dallas began with a law career in 1916 and was interrupted by World War I. He entered in the United States Army as a private. Rodgers served in 1917 and 1918, later being discharged on December 15, 1918, attaining the ranking of Major in the field artillery.

Rodgers returned to Dallas and became associated with local law firm Saner and Saner. He helped organize and was the first president of the Dallas Salesmanship Club in 1920.

With local Dallas businessman and lawyer Charles D. Turner, he founded his own firm specializing in gas and oil law in 1925. He represented Standard Oil Company of Indiana and its Texas subsidiaries for many years. He was also the president of the Dallas Bar Association in 1938, vice president and director of the First National Bank of Childress, and a director of Delta Airlines.

Rodgers was elected as the mayor of Dallas in 1939. As mayor, Rodgers was instrumental in putting the city on a strict cash operating basis for planning its growth throughout the financial and infrastructural building. The Dallas city council hired St. Louis city planner Harland Bartholomew, whose master plan for Dallas was initiated in December 1945 when voters approved $40 million worth of bonds.

Rodgers helped expand Love Field Airport and began the layout for the Garza-Little Elm Reservoir. The infrastructure expansion also included Central Expressway, Memorial Auditorium, and the Dallas Public Library. The American Municipal Association elected him president in 1946. The National Conference of Mayors elected him vice president during his last four years as mayor.

Rodgers was also the founder and president of the Greater Dallas Planning Council, board chairman of the Dallas Council on World Affairs, a trustee of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (now the Dallas Museum of Art), and a director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the State Fair of Texas, and the Dallas Public Library.

Rodgers was a member of the Law Institute of America and a trustee of the Southwestern Legal Foundation and Vanderbilt University. His notable awards when serving as the mayor of Dallas include:

  • The Linz Award for outstanding civic service for 1942.
  • The American Legion Award for citizenship and leadership in 1944.
  • The “All Time Headliner” award from the Dallas Press Club in 1961.
  • An award for distinguished city planning from Dallas architects in 1955.

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