Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Ruth A. Deeter, 1878-1944
By Scott Vehstedt, independent historian
Dr. Ruth A. Deeter was born on September 29, 1878, to J. Newton, a Civil War veteran, and Sarah E. Deeter. Ruth had two sisters, Jane Deeter Rippin and Lile Deeter, as well as two brothers, Edmund M. Deeter and J. N. Deeter, Jr. Ruth's sister Jane achieved national recognition as a reformer in the Pennsylvania court system. Ruth graduated from Mechanicsburg High School in 1895 and went on to become a physician of some renown despite census records indicating that she did not attend university. Dr. Deeter achieved acclaim around Pennsylvania for both her activism in the suffrage movement and her medical career. She passed away on March 24, 1944. Dr. Deeter never married or had any children.
Dr. Deeter was a leading figure in the suffrage movement of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, alongside her colleague Lenore Flower. In the winter of 1911, Philadelphia newspapers noted her regularly braving the cold to sell copies of the Woman's Journal on the city's streets. The New York Times referred to this publication as the "organ of the suffragists." In 1912, Dr. Deeter was elected a sectional vice president of the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association. Dr. Deeter was also a member of the Woman's Auxiliary to the Progressives and the vice chairman of the Dauphin County Women's Suffrage Association. In each of these capacities, Dr. Deeter was regularly involved in public demonstrations aimed at women's suffrage. In fact, Dr. Deeter was one of the few women whose activism Pennsylvania papers regularly documented with a degree of reverence.
In 1914, Dr. Deeter was one of several Harrisburg representatives to patronize a talk by America's only female state senator, Helen Ring Robinson. Dr. Deeter was given the honor of introducing the senator at her talk. In the summer of that year, Dr. Deeter was also present along with a contingent of suffragists to welcome Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan to Mechanicsburg for a speech. Bryan carried with him a fan with the exclamation "votes for women" written across it, which Dr. Deeter and other suffragists were giving out.
Alongside her political activism, Dr. Deeter was also an accomplished osteopath, who in 1914 was one of a handful of otherwise all male physicians to be recognized at a national osteopathy convention. More than 3,000 osteopaths attended the conference. By August 1914, Dr. Deeter was elected secretary of the newly created Woman's Department of the Bureau of Public Health. In that capacity, Dr. Deeter lectured, educated, and organized for women's clubs and groups around Pennsylvania that were working to improve hygiene and prevent diseases.
Outside of her work and political activism, Dr. Deeter was also a patron of the arts and was active in her church. She was a member of the choir and a volunteer who worked with children to promote art, literature, and general education. She was considered a leading citizen in Cumberland County, well-respected for her strength, generosity, and courage.
Dr. Ruth Deeter's activism is well documented in various newspapers archived in the "Chronicling America" project of the Library of Congress.