The Legacy Series: Ruth Ellis

During the month of February, Kappa Theta Epsilon not only celebrates our Founding Day; we celebrate the contributions of African-American lesbian women. In honor of the accomplishments of these distinguished individuals, the Sorority is proud to present The Legacy Series.


Born in 1899, Ruth Ellis was known as America’s longest living openly lesbian woman. During her lifetime, she would accomplish many “firsts,” including being the first female proprietor of a printing company in the city of Detroit.

She learned about standing up for herself from her father – who was the first African American mail carrier in the city of Springfield, IL.

Ruth attended Springfield High – an “all-white” school – and faced derision and ostracism
from her classmates. After high school, she went to work for a white man in a print shop. There she learned the trade that would become her livelihood.

At the urging of her older brother, she moved to Detriot in 1937. Ruth went into business for herself, opening up a print shop and servicing the Detroit business and religious communities.

Not long after relocating, she met Ceciline “Babe” Franklin, her partner of more than 35 years. The couple decided to open their home to Black gays and lesbians as a safe haven & a place to socialize. It quickly became known as “the gay spot,” and took on popularity with LGBT
people across the region.

Later in life, Ruth volunteered helping other seniors. In her 80s, she became a sought
after public speaker on LGBT rights and issues.

Today, the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit, Michigan serves homeless LGBT youth in need of a safe haven in her honor.

Ruth was a pioneer – as a Black woman, an openly queer woman of color, and an entrepreneur.
What makes the life of Ruth Ellis so unique, and so significant, is her self-determinism.

She made the decision to define herself and live authentically in a time when that was almost unheard of for African-American women.

Ms. Ellis passed away peacefully on October 5th, 2000. She was 101 years old.

To learn more about the Legacy Series and Kappa Theta Epsilon Sorority, visit the hub at