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.
Ruth C. Ellis has always been out. Her first crush was her high
school gym teacher in 1915, in Springfield, IL. She didn't meet her
life companion of 34 years, Ceciline "Babe" Franklin, until 1936. In
1937, they moved Detroit. There Ruth C. Ellis becomes the first woman
to own her own printing business in Northwestern Detroit-Ellis and
Franklin Printing. She also taught herself photography and
From 1946 to 1971, Ruth and Babe's home becomes known as the "Gay
Spot." For generations of African American gays and lesbians in the
Midwest, Ruth and Babe's home provided an alternative to the bar
scene that discriminated against blacks. Her home was a refuge of
sorts to African Americans who came "out" before the civil rights
movement and Stonewall. Ruth and Babe, offered lodging to black gay
men newly arrived from the South. They also helped many of
the young people through college. [>>continued]