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Ruth Ellis
(June 23, 1899 - October 5, 2000) U.S.A.

Ruth Ellis



Ruth Ellis was born in Springfield, Illinois. Ellis was the youngest of four children born to Charles Sr. and Carrie Faro, both from Tennessee. Her three brothers were Wellington, who played drums, Harry, a medical doctor who played the piano and clarinet, and Charles Jr., a second lieutenant in World War I who played the violin. Ellis said she played the mandolin and the piano by ear.

Ellis said she learned about homosexuality by reading books, such as Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness.

"Then, I found a psychology book," she said. "It had different things in it about different types of people. That's how I learned [about homosexuality]. Nobody told me anything."
Ellis, who eventually moved to Detroit where her brother Charles lived, said she had her first real girlfriend when she was 37. Cicilene "Babe" Franklin was 10 years younger than Ellis. Ellis said she had a penchant for drinking liquor, gambling, and going out. In addition, Ellis said Franklin was a restaurant cook and always wore dresses.

The couple stayed together 30 years. One highlight in their life was when they bought a home on Oakland Avenue in Detroit and opened a small print shop, which Ellis ran. They named it the "Ellis and Franklin Printing Company."

Ellis was also a business woman and owned a printing company. Ellis said a man in her neighborhood in Springfield had taught her how to set type and operate his presses. So in Detroit, she did walk-in printing jobs for churches and other organizations that often involved printing coin envelopes and raffle tickets. With Franklin's job as a cook and the printing company, Ellis said they managed to survive.

She held social gatherings in her home at a time when there were few places for Black LGBT people to gather. During the late 1930s and the 1940s, the house where Ellis and Franklin lived was also a gathering place for Gay men and women who would come there for parties. Eventually, however, the city tore down the house as part of an urban renewal effort.

Ruth EllisIn the 1960s, Franklin, who had a car, decided to move to a place closer to her job. Ellis moved into a senior citizens' center in downtown Detroit, but said she kept a key to Franklin's home.

Ellis has been single since Franklin died in 1973. "I do very well the way I am," she said.

She was the oldest know out Lesbian, active to the end in LGBT and senior citizen's movements. Ellis has been in attendance at the annual NBLGLF conference. At age 97 she conducted an informal workshop at the National Women's Music Festival.

Less than a month before her death, she helped dedicate the Ruth Ellis Center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered youth in Detroit. The city of Detroit recognized her contributions by celebrating Ruth Ellis Day each February during Black History Month.


Documentary: Living With Pride: Ruth Ellis @ 100 (a film about her life) (1999)

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