Partner Ceciline "Babe" Franklin
Ruth Ellis Center, 77 Victor St, Highland Park, MI 48203
Ruth Charlotte Ellis (July 23, 1899 – October 5, 2000) was an African-American woman who became widely known as the oldest surviving open lesbian, and LGBT rights activist at the age of 100, her life being celebrated in Yvonne Welbon's documentary film Living With Pride: Ruth C. Ellis @ 100.
Ruth Ellis is profiled in ''Family: a portrait of gay and lesbian America'', by Nancy Andrews (1994).
Ellis was born in Springfield, Illinois, on July 23, 1899, to Charlie Ellis and Carrie Farro Ellis. She was the youngest of four children in the family and the only daughter. Her parents were born in the last years of slavery in Tennessee. Ellis' mother died when she was a teen. She came out as a lesbian around 1915, and graduated from Springfield High School in 1919, at a time when fewer than seven percent of African Americans graduated from secondary school. In the 1920s, she met the only woman she ever lived with, Ceciline "Babe" Franklin. They moved together to Detroit, Michigan, in 1937 where Ellis became the first American woman to own a printing business in that city. She made a living printing stationery, fliers, and posters out of her house. Ellis and Franklin's house was also known in the African American community as the "gay spot". It was a central location for gay and lesbian parties, and also served as a refuge for African American gays and lesbians. Although Ellis and Franklin eventually separated, they were together for more than 30 years. Franklin died in 1973. Throughout her life, Ellis was an advocate of the rights of gays and lesbians, and of African Americans. She died in her sleep at her home on October 5, 2000.
The Ruth Ellis Center honors the life and work of Ruth Ellis, and is one of only four agencies in the United States dedicated to homeless LGBT youth and young adults. Among their services are a drop-in center, street outreach program and licensed foster care home.
In 2013, she was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display which celebrates LGBT history and people.
RUTH ELLIS: Ruth Ellis was born on July 23,1899, in Springfield, Illinois. In 1937, she moved to Detroit to be with her girlfriend, Babe Franklin. They lived together for thirty-four years. Babe was a cook, and Ruth ran a print shop out of their house. Babe, eleven years Ruth's junior, died in 1975. Ruth now lives alone in a thirteenth-floor apartment in a senior citizens building in downtown Detroit. She says people in the building wonder why she has so many young women friends, especially white friends. Ruth is a regular at the Detroit Women's Coffeehouse and at women's music festivals. At the coffeehouse she taps her feet to the music, and complains to her friends that the performing poet is using the pronoun he too frequently. "He, he, he. Why not she, she, she?" Ruth asks. She was photographed in her apartment and in her living room on her exercise bicycle, a gift from some of her young lesbian friends. I guess I knew I was a lesbian in high school because I fell in love with my gym teacher. Now, she didn't know it though, but that was my love. I couldn't do any¬ thing, just admired her, that's all. All to myself. I didn't know anything about lesbian or gay people. I tried to find out what we did. I tried to hang around some sportin' women because I figured they would know, but they just laughed me off. They wouldn't tell me nothin'. Springfield was a small town, and there wasn't very many places gay people could go. We went to a lady's house. She sold liquor. That was back when home brew was in style. I guess she was gay, must have been, but she had both men and women. Soon after I moved to Detroit I met a couple of gay girls. Sometimes you can tell who's gay and who's not. They looked gay. I got acquainted with these girls, and they introduced me to more and more. Then after Babe and I bought a home, our house was the main place for gay people to come. Gay people didn't have anyplace else to go. Everybody would bring a bottle. We used to dance a lot. We had a piano in the basement, and we'd sing and play. We'd dance and drink and play cards. Babe and I stayed together over thirty years, until the city bought our property and we had to move. That's when I moved into a senior citizens building. I wanted to come downtown, and Babe went out in the suburbs. We still kept in touch. That is where she passed, out there—in 1975, I think it was. I didn't know anybody in this senior citizens building that was gay. Then this girl, she taught karate, she came and taught us adults how to take care of ourselves. I looked at her and I said, "Oh, I bet she's gay." After she left I wrote her a card and asked her if I could get better acquainted with her. She invited me over to another class, and I met a lot of the girls there. They were gay. They took me to one of these bars and I met the people there. The ball just kept rollin'. I kept meetin' the women, the women, the women, until, oh, I just know a gang of them now. I am the oldest lesbian that they know of. That's it. Everyone wants to meet this old lesbian. They just take me around here, there, and yonder. I specialize in the women. I love women. Yes, lesbians, lesbians, lesbians. I get most of my joy from women. Since I met all these women, that's what's keepin' me alive.
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