Geraldine Pittman Woods, 78, former chairman of the Howard University board of trustees who was instrumental in promoting training programs in biomedical sciences at minority institutions nationally, died of complications related to cancer Dec. 27 at her home in Los Angeles.

Dr. Woods served on Howard's board of trustees from 1968 to 1988, and she was chairman for the last 13 years of her service. She was one of the early organizers of the Head Start preschool program for disadvantaged children during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, and she had been a consultant to the National Institutes of Health on the development of biomedical science programs at predominantly black institutions.

From 1963 to 1967, she was national president of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, a predominantly black public service organization of more than 130,000 college-educated women. In that role, she supported the establishment of Head Start centers. In February 1965, she was at the White House for the official launching of Head Start.

She was born in West Palm Beach, Fla., attended Talladega College in Alabama and graduated from Howard University in 1942. She received a master's degree and a doctorate in neuro-embryology at Harvard-Radcliffe. In 1945 and 1946, she taught at Howard.

In 1947, she moved to Los Angeles, where she maintained a relationship with Howard and the National Institutes of Health.

From 1969 to 1987, she was a special consultant to NIH on the development and implementation of research, training and fellowship programs in biomedical sciences for predominantly black institutions. In 1972, she helped initiate and develop Minority Access to Research Careers, a program of financial support for minority students in biomedical science programs.

In 1966, she was appointed to a four-year term on the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, and she was named chairman the next year. The committee was made up of 50 women who advised the secretary of defense on improving the status of women in the military.

In 1975, Dr. Woods became the first woman to head Howard University's board of trustees. That job included responsibility for organizing schools within the university, curriculum development, review and approval of university policies and plans and review of investments and budgets. She served until 1988.

She also served on the boards of trustees of Atlanta University, the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and the Girl Scouts of America. She had honorary doctorates from Benedict College, Talledega College, Meharry Medical College, Fisk University, Bennett College and Howard.

Survivors include her husband of 54 years, Robert Woods of Los Angeles; three children, Jan Rocks of Santa Monica, Calif., Jerri Woods of Glendale, Calif., and Robert Woods Jr. of Palo Alto, Calif.; and three grandchildren.