Biographical Sketch of Caroline Ruutz-Rees

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Caroline Ruutz-Rees, 1865-1954

By Susan J. Slaga-Metivier, Reference and Instruction Librarian, Central Connecticut State University, Elihu Burritt Library, New Britain, Connecticut

Headmistress, Rosemary Hall and activist in the Suffrage movement

Caroline Ruutz-Rees was born on August 16, 1865, in London England, to Louis and Janet Ruutz-Rees. She had a younger brother named Roland Henry and a sister, Theckla Louise. Ruutz-Rees immigrated to the United States in 1882, where she attended Madame Clement's School in Germantown, Pennsylvania. She worked as a teacher there in 1885, before relocating to St. John the Baptist School in New York, where she taught from 1886-1889, and later at St. Mary's School in Burlington, New Jersey, where she worked from 1889-1890.

Ruutz-Rees' career took a new direction in 1890, when she became the Headmistress of Rosemary Hall (a private girls' school) in Greenwich, Connecticut, a position that she held until 1938. Under her leadership, Rosemary Hall's mission changed from promoting the domestic arts to advocating a demanding academic program for female students that included expanding student government and athletic opportunities. She was one of the first administrators in the United States to require students to wear uniforms at an all-girls school.

Her activism for women's suffrage took off in 1910. That year, Ruutz-Rees, along with other prominent supporters from Connecticut, including Katherine “Kitty” Ludington and Grace Thompson Seton, urged innovative strategies to help women gain the right to vote including using bolder protest techniques. By the mid-1910s, tensions in the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association (CWSA) over the campaign's direction mirrored larger national trends. Many dissatisfied CWSA members left the organization for the newly formed state branch of the more militant National Woman's Party (NWP) founded by New Jersey-native Alice Paul and New Yorker Lucy Burns.

Ruutz-Rees joined a new generation of women who worked closely with the Connecticut section of the NWP, becoming a key local leader. Beginning in 1916 CNWP members petitioned, wrote letters, picketed outside the White House and lobbied politicians to advocate for the passage and adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment. Suffragists made arguments to persuade government leaders that justice mandates women the right to participate as equals in government. Because of Ruutz-Rees and others' efforts, the Connecticut General Assembly became the thirty-seventh state to ratify the women's suffrage amendment in September of 1920.

Ruutz-Rees's involvement in activism, however, was not limited to suffrage organizing. She also served as the chairman of the Connecticut Division of the Women's Committee of the Council of Defense from 1917-1918. During World War I, many women took on men's jobs to support the home front. In this role, Ruutz-Rees joined patriotic Connecticut women who helped with various tasks such as agricultural work tending to victory gardens. She wrote articles about the success of substituting women for men in different jobs. In an article she wrote about women's war work in 1919 for the New York Times Current History Magazine, she stated that “Various employers testify that women learn quickly, are more attentive to their work, do it more accurately and keep at it steadily.” Connecticut women such as Ruutz-Reez made important contributions to maintaining morale and addressing physical and material needs during the war.

Ruutz-Rees remained dedicated to her public career and activism throughout most of her life. Her granddaughter recalled that she was devoted to her work and community service, even to the point of prioritizing these endeavors over matrimony and romantic commitment. She never married, but raised two adopted children, Roland and Elizabeth, before she died in Greenwich, Connecticut in 1954.

Sources:

Burr, F. E. (1910, November, 11). Meeting of the executive committee the C. W. S. A. {Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association}. (RG 101, Box 2, Records of Meetings, 1910-1914, Nov. 11, 1910, 12-14). Connecticut State Library, Hartford, Connecticut.

Cameron, M. W. (Ed.). (1924-1925). Biographical Cyclopedia of American Women. (Vols. 1-2). New York, NY: Halvord Publishing Co.

Johnson, K. E. (Winter 2014-2015). Greenwich women face the great war. Connecticut Explored. Retrieved from https://www.ctexplored.org/greenwich-women-face-the-great-war/

Nichols, C. (1983). The emergence of the women's movement in Connecticut. In Riemer, E. (ed.) Votes and more for women suffrage and after in Connecticut (Women & History, Number 5, pp. 5-22) New York: The Haworth Press.

Ruutz-Rees, C. (1918). The mobilization of American women.” The Yale Review, 7, 801-818.

Ruutz-Rees, C. (1919). Women's war work in three nations. Current History. 9(2), 101–105.

 

Photo:

Photo scanned with permission from the Choate Rosemary Hall Archives.

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