Remembering Mary Ruthsdotter (1944 - 2010)
Our friend and co-founder, Mary Ruthsdotter, passed away on January 8th. Mary was the ultimate women's history convert. The work she did to ensure that women's history would be recognized, honored, and celebrated is a great gift to all of us.
Mary Ruthsdotter was born on October 14, 1944, in Fairfield, Iowa, Iowa. Her family was "strong Midwest stock," and Mary followed in the footsteps of her mother Ruth and grandmother Esther. Both women were smart and independent, and Mary was no different.
Mary attended UCLA in the early 1970s and threw herself into those exciting times at the beginning of the feminist movement. Mary was determined to raise her daughter Alice to be brave and bold. Mary and husband Dave Crawford traveled with four-year-old Alice through South America for several months. She also helped Alice be fearless about math, unlike her own experience in school, when girls were "not supposed to" be good in math.
So Mary was a feminist and activist from early on. But it was when she moved to Sonoma County, California, California, in 1977 that she learned about women's history. She went to a slideshow presented by Molly MacGregor, Bette Morgan, and Paula Hammett. As Mary later said,
"Seeing all those pictures of so many women involved in such momentous events was an awakening. Women had a long proud history which had been invisible in my schooling. Virtually all the accomplishments and contributions of people like me - women, half the world's population! -- had been blatantly ignored!"
Mary became passionate about bringing women's history into public consciousness. She was a volunteer embroiderer for Judy Chicago's art installation, "The Dinner Party." And along with MacGregor, Morgan, Hammett, and Maria Cuevas, she co-founded the National Women's History Project (NWHP) in 1980. Her enthusiastic optimism, good humor, ever-expanding knowledge, and dedicated work added immensely to bringing women's history to wide attention.
As Projects Director, Mary gained funding for materials for students, teachers, librarians, parents, workplace organizers, and the media. She produced curriculum units, organizing guides, teacher training sessions, and videos on U.S. women's history. She wrote thousands of press releases to promote women's history through radio, television, magazines, and newspapers throughout the nation When the Women's History Network was created in 1983, Mary linked historians, librarians, performers, and community organizers throughout the country. She produced the quarterly "Network News," packed with facts, practical ideas, and program strategies. These eight-page newsletters documented the exciting expansion of women's history in the late 20th century.
Largely because of Mary's efforts, the NWHP became the national clearinghouse for women's history, both in print and on the internet. Mary built a library of over 6,000 books about women in U.S. history, and filled cabinets with articles and photographs. She and her husband Dave created two award-winning websites. Mary was an expert at finding and delivering the information people wanted!
We are grateful that among Mary Ruthsdotter's legacies are the women's history movement she helped create and the organization she co-founded.
We extend our heart-felt condolences to Dave Crawford, Mary's husband of 46 years, and to her mother Ruth Moyer, to her daughter Alice and son-in-law Geoff, and grandsons Marcus and Ian, as well as to the rest of her family, and to her extraordinary network of friends.
Her daughter, Alice, described Mary best when she wrote "my dear mother was an amazing gal, kick-ass activist, friend, maker of fun, spreader of wisdom - a truly remarkable rare bird indeed."
A memorial service and celebration of her life is being planned for a future date.