A Web Portal For Lesbians Of Color

Ruth Ellis

Name:         Ruth Charlotte Ellis
Sunrise:      July 23, 1899
Sunset:       October 2001

Courtesy of the Lesbian History Project

"My life has been nothing special. I am a quiet person who came from a very ordinary, middle-class Negro family. I was born July 23, 1899 in Springfield, Illinois...After high school in Springfield, a neighborhood man taught me how to set type and run his presses...I had one real girlfriend. Her name was Ceciline. We called her Babe. She was the only person I ever lived with...We lived together for 30 years...When I decided to have a [print] shop of my own, my girlfriend and I bought a home...Our house was noted for being a 'gay spot.' There weren't very many places in Detroit you could go back in 1937, 1940...people used to come from every place... Babe died in 1973...I love to dance, bowl and go to classical music recitals. I have so many young friends who treat me wonderfully...I'm having a lot of fun!..."  (From interview with Miss Ruth by Terri Jewell, in Piece of My Heart).  [Read More]

The Gay community's love affair with Ellis began when she was around 80. It started when this elderly black woman slipped a note to Jaye Spiro, a white female who once taught self-defense classes and karate to residents of the senior citizens center where Ellis then lived.

Ellis said she thought Spiro was Gay. So in the note, she asked whether they could get better acquainted. Spiro responded by visiting Ellis and then introducing her to Lesbians in other karate classes she taught.

"Those girls took me to all the bars, and it just snowballed after that," Ellis said. "Word got around, and I was going every place."

Ellis, who was born in Springfield, Ill., on July 23, 1899.  (From 100 years young -- Ruth Ellis brings the celebration of a century to D.C. Black Pride by Rhonda Smith)

Ruth Ellis' Tale of Two Cities:
One Hundred Years In The Making -- by Keith Boykin

Some time after eight on the morning of July 21, 1899, Dr. Clarence Hemingway walked out to his front porch at what was then 439 Oak Park Avenue in Oak Park, Illinois. He lifted up his cornet, fingered the valves, placed his lips on the mouthpiece, and began blowing music to announce the birth of his first son Ernest.

Only forty-eight hours later, one hundred ninety-three miles southwest in Springfield, Illinois, thirty-eight year old Charles Ellis and thirty-four year old Carrie Faro Ellis gave birth to their first daughter Ruth. It's hard to imagine how the lives of Ernest Hemingway and Ruth Ellis could be more opposite. Hemingway - White, male, and heterosexual - the son of a doctor, was born into a prominent family. Ellis, on the other hand - Black, female, and homosexual - was born to parents of modest means, although her father held the distinction of serving as Springfield's first Black mail carrier. [more]

Ruth Ellis Continues to Fight Racism
a snapshot of the oldest living Afro-American lesbian, her falling in and out of love, and how she lives today with her circle of friends

by Gloria Melencio

By the time Ruth Charlotte Ellis celebrated her 101st birthday last 23 July, she had become the oldest living "out" Black feminist in the history, rather herstory, of the women's movement. Those 101 years had been spent working, fighting, dancing, laughing, and loving. Could a woman ask for more?

Born in 1899 in Illinois, USA, Ruth was the youngest of four children and the only girl. Her mother died when she was very young. Her father, the first Coloured mail courier in the state, sent all of his children to school. Ruth's brothers play the piano, violin and the guitar. She likewise plays the guitar and excels in dancing.

Ruthie, as she signs her name in her personal letters, says her being Black has caused her a lot of pain, struggles and troubles. The turn of the 20th century was one of the most turbulent times in American history, and she witnessed how Blacks were hated, maimed, lynched and killed because of the colour of their skin.

Her childhood was filled with memories of discrimination and racial segregation. Blacks were denied entry to theatres, except for one opera house who let them in, but only on condition that they stayed in the farthest gallery. "The children called it peanut heaven," she chuckles. All the good eating places refused to accept Black customers, she continues, and the only one where they could go was a short-order restaurant— "but it served only chili!"

Ruth went to a mixed school where the Coloured pupils did not have the opportunities that the White children had. Denied participation in any team activities, they could only look on with envy during baseball, football or swimming practice. Black children had to go to the Sangamon River, a dangerous place where some of them had already drowned, to enjoy playing in the water. She herself, like many of her friends, never learned to swim or engage in other sports because of segregation. [Read More]

Ruth Ellis: The Oldest "Out" Lesbian Known
by Yvonne Welbon

The first time I laid eyes on Ruth C. Ellis she was dancing. I was at the 1997 National Women's Music Festival women of color dance.  When my girlfriend and I had to pause for water and rest, Ruth did not. I wondered how old she was. I later learned that Ruth C. Ellis was 97 years old.

Born July 23, 1899, in Springfield, Illinois, Ruth C. Ellis is the oldest "out" African American lesbian I know. When I met her, I was indeed intrigued. I wanted to know everything about her.  I could not begin to image the almost one-hundred years of history that was living in the 4'8" tall woman that everyone calls Ruth.  [Read More]

Source:  http://www-lib.usc.edu/~retter/ruthmain.html
Lesbian History Project:  http://isd.usc.edu/~retter/main.html
http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/100years.html  (Real Audio)
Conversation With Ruth Ellis (Keith Boykin):  http://www.keithboykin.com/author/ruth3.html
Sisters In The Life: http://www.sistersinthelife.com/1024index.html

Obits & Bio

Ruth Ellis: Set example for the gay community

October 6, 2000

Ruth Ellis, a role model within the gay community, has died. She was 101.

Ms. Ellis, a longtime Detroit resident, was considered a national treasure among the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, known as much for her energy as for her deep commitment to human rights. Author Alice Walker called her a woman of "power, audacity, and joy."  [Read Article]


"Living With Pride: Ruth Ellis @ 100."

A one hour 1999 documentary film by Yvonne Welbon is   available from Our Film Works, P.O. Box 267848, Chicago, IL. 60626 Toll free telephone: 1-800-343-5540

Living With Pride: Ruth Ellis @ 100 chronicles Ruth's life through interviews, memories of younger friends, photographs, archival footage and vivid dramatic recreations of her past. The recreations scenes are shot in 16mm and super 8 film. In addition actual archival and newsreel footage is used to contextualize the social, political and technological changes that Ruth Ellis has witnessed. Actors for the recreated scenes were drawn from A Real Read--Chicago's own African American gay, lesbian, bi and trans performance group.

Living With Pride Website

Ruth Ellis' Tale of Two Cities:
One Hundred Years In The Making
The Interview

by Keith Boykin

The following day she is wearing a San Francisco T-shirt over a pair of faded jeans as she stands to greet me in the hallway when the elevator door opens on the thirteenth floor. She ushers me into her place and politely asks if I would like something to drink or care for any leftover cake. Everyone seems to know Ruth has just reached her one-hundredth birthday.

Listen To Ruth Ellis
NPR Radio Show

Mirror Site For Above Interview
Chicago Public Radio