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social sciences

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Ellis, Ruth (1899-2000)  
page: 1  2  3  

Ellis is the subject of Yvonne Welbon's award-winning documentary film Living with Pride: Ruth Ellis at 100 (1999). The two women met in 1996 when Ellis had traveled to Bloomington, Indiana for the National Women's Music Festival and Welbon spotted her at a dance for women of color and was immediately drawn to the sprightly nonagenarian who was dancing the night away.

For the next couple of years Welbon interviewed and filmed Ellis at her home in Detroit and at the annual Golden Threads festival for older lesbians and gay men in Provincetown. Her film combines archival footage with recreations of the events of Ellis's life to tell her story.

Sponsor Message.

When Living with Pride premiered in San Francisco, the diminutive Ellis--who stood only four feet eight inches tall--blossomed as a big star. All three screenings of the film played to sold-out audiences, and after each show, women thronged around Ellis, eager for the chance to meet and talk with her.

Also in 1999, Ellis presided at the ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the Ruth Ellis Center, a haven for homeless glbtq youth in Detroit. "We really did model the agency after the legacy of her unselfishness in giving to young people," stated Executive Director Grace McClelland.

The facility offers a Drop-In Center, the Ruth's House Emergency Shelter, and the Ruth's House Transitional Living Program, an eighteen-month course in independent-living skills for people aged sixteen to twenty-one.

The Street Outreach Program, developed in 2003-2004, has been highly successful in bringing young people into the Center, where they can not only have their basic needs for food, shelter, and hygiene met, but can also receive education about HIV/AIDS and other diseases and can be paired with a mentor to help them develop pride and self-esteem and to become self-sufficient.

Because of heart problems, Ellis spent two weeks in the hospital in the fall of 2000. She wanted to live out her days at home, however, and so she returned to her apartment, where she was attended around the clock by loving friends until she died in her sleep on October 5.

Ellis always insisted, "I'm just an ordinary little woman . . . . I'm not that important," but those whom she helped and inspired with her generous spirit, her determination, and her zest for living surely believed otherwise.

Ellis knew the importance of remembering the past and learning from it, but she never stopped looking to the future. In an interview in The Advocate in April 2000, she stressed the need for lesbians and gay men to work with each other for equality: "The only way we can get anyplace is by being together."

When asked for her thoughts on "gay people in the twenty-first century," she stated, "Gay people have to get in there just like anybody else. We have to work. We need more businesses. Scientists, chemists, things like that. If we could get more gay people in our politics, I think it would help a lot."

Ellis concluded with advice for young people: "I hope you get a good education. And be honest and caring. Try to love people. Have a happy life if you can in this crazy world."

Linda Rapp

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social sciences >> Overview:  African Americans

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While research shows that glbtq people do not differ significantly from their heterosexual counterparts in adjusting to the process of aging, they do face particular challenges.

social sciences >> Overview:  Detroit

Despite continued conflict between city and suburb and between different racial groups, some spirit of queer community and political activism, unbounded by city limits, has revealed itself in post-Stonewall Detroit.

arts >> Overview:  Documentary Film

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Capeloto, Alexa. "Ruth Ellis: Set Example for Gay Community." Detroit Free Press (October 6, 2000): 5B.

Dunye, Cheryl. "Woman of the Century: One-hundred-year-old Ruth Ellis Speaks Her Mind on Her Lesbian Life in the Last Century--and the Next." The Advocate 810 (April 25, 2000): 60.

Eichberg, Sarah. "She Helps Many Just by Being Herself; Pioneer a Role Model for Blacks, Lesbians." Detroit Free Press (July 20, 1998): 1B.

Graham, Renee. "Life in the Pop Lane; Inspiring 'Pride' Depicts Life of Oldest Black Lesbian." Boston Globe (April 11, 2000): C1.

Jewell, Terri. "Miss Ruth." Does Your Mama Know?: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories. Lisa C. Moore, ed. Austin, Texas: RedBone Press, 1997. 189-196.

"One Hundred Years of Stories." Morning Edition (May 25, 2000):

Ruth Ellis Center.

Whiting, Celeste. "Hope for LGBT Homeless Youth in Southeast Michigan." Our Michigan (May 10, 2007):

Wilkinson, Kathleen. "Portrait of a 100-Year-Old Lesbian." Curve 9.5 (November 1999):


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Ellis, Ruth  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2007  
    Date Last Updated September 20, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2007 glbtq, Inc.  


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