Ruth Ellis, the LGBT rights activist and oldest known lesbian to
ever live, was born on this day in 1899 and would have turned 118-years-old
Ruth Ellis poses for the camera as she leans against a car in 1951 (x).
Ruth was born on July 23, 1899 in Springfield, Illinois as her
parents fourth child and first daughter. Her mother and father, Charles and
Carrie Ellis, were former slaves from Tennessee but the abolition of slavery
allowed them to move north and build a prosperous life for themselves and their
family. Ruth’s mother died when she was young, but her father became the first
black mail carrier in the state of Illinois and managed to put three of his
children, Ruth included, through high school. Ruth would graduate from
Springfield High School in 1919.
Ruth came out to her family as a lesbian when she was just
16-years-old, which was an unheard-of admittance in 1915! She would also recall
meeting her partner, Babe, just five years later in 1920. For the next 30 years, Ruth and
Babe would live together in Detroit, Michigan, where their home eventually
became a major hub for the city’s black gay and lesbian community. Ruth also
became the first black woman to ever operate her own printing company in the
whole city of Detroit; the business specialized in printing stationary, fliers,
and posters, and was operated out of her and Babe’s home.
Ruth is photographed hard at work operating the printing press that fueled her successful small business (x).
Ruth and Babe eventually separated because, as Ruth said, “We
were just two opposite people.” Although the refuge of Ruth and Babe’s home
ceased to exist, Ruth remained incredibly involved in the LGBT community and reached somewhat of a celebrity status in the 1970s. She became noticed as a frequent
attendee of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and eventually began being
asked to speak at different universities around the country about her
experience as an out lesbian in the pre-Stonewall days. Her 100th
birthday was celebrated with the release of the documentary Living with Pride: Ruth C. Ellis @ 100
and that same year Ruth was the honorary leader of the San Francisco Dyke March.
A special photo shoot to celebrate Ruth’s 100th birthday shows her smiling sweetly and holding a bouquet of flowers (x).
Ruth passed away peacefully in her sleep on October 6, 2000
when she was 101-years-old. The Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit continues to be
operated in her memory and is one of only four American organizations specifically
dedicated to housing LGBT youth.
1983 – 2009—Over thirty-five challenges in twenty states since the book’s publication.
2009—Challenged in the Newman-Crows Landing School District on a required reading list presented by the Orestimba High English Department. A trustee questioned the qualifications of Orestimba staff to teach a novel depicting African American culture. (CA)
1976 – 1994—Challenged five times in five states. (NY, GA, TX, MD, SC)
1976—Removed from Island Trees School Union Free District High School library along with nine other titles because they were considered “immoral, anti-American, anti-Christian, or just plain filthy.” (NY)
1997—Challenged for sexual explicitness, but retained on the Stonewall Jackson High School’s academically advanced reading list in Brentsville. A parent objected to the novel’s language and sexual explicitness.
1994 – 2007—Challenged eleven times in nine states since publication. (AK, PA, FL, MA, MD, NH, CA, CO, MI)
2005—Banned from the Littleton curriculum and library shelves after complaints about its explicit sex, including the rape of an eleven-year-old girl by her father. (CO)
2013— The board of education president in Ohio is criticizing the inclusion of the book on the Common Core Standard’s recommended reading list for 11th-graders, labeling the controversial work “pornographic,” and wishes to ban it from the classroom.
1993 – 2009—Challenged in five states due to its sexually explicitly language. (OH, GA, FL, MD, MI)
1998—Removed from the St. Mary’s County Schools’ approved text list by the school superintendent overruling a faculty committee recommendation. Complaints referred to the novel as “filth,” “trash,” and “repulsive.” (MD)
2000—Challenged on the Poolesville High School reading list because of the book’s sexual content and language. On October 5, 2000, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Paul McGuckian dismissed the bid to band the work from the curriculum. The school, however, decided to remove the book from the summer reading list. (MD)
2005—Challenged, but retained at Fayetteville High School despite a parent’s complaint that it was sexually explicit. The complainant also submitted a list of more than fifty books, citing the books as too sexually explicit and promoting homosexuality. (AL)