Sam Edison Woods was born in Starrville, Texas in 1892. As a child, his family moved to Purvis, Mississippi, where he spent his adolescent and teenage years. Woods' father was a mill operator in Purvis, and it is said that Sam spent up to 11 hours a day, 6 days a week working in that mill.
After studying manual arts at the University of Valparaiso, Woods returned to Mississippi in 1917. Living in Hattiesburg, he founded the manual arts department at the Mississippi Normal College (now The University of Southern Mississippi).
In the 1920 annual for the Mississippi Normal College, Woods is known as a "persevering" man who has "strong will-power" and never "shirks duty." This description of Sam E. Woods provides insight into the type of man he was and may explain why he was so successful in his diplomatic career.