Plaque Sponsor

Fifth Third Bank

1899 - 2000

"I was always out of the closet. I didn't have to come out."

 - Ruth Ellis

Ruth Ellis was born in Springfield, Illinois to parents who were conceived in the last years of slavery. Her life spanned through moments of great turmoil and upheaval – from the Springfield Riot of 1908 to the Detroit Riots of 1967 – an endless backdrop of conflict from which Ellis managed to extract an exuberance for life that was incandescent. She came out as a lesbian at the age of 16, and got a high school diploma at a time when fewer than seven percent of African Americans graduated from secondary school. In 1936 she met her partner of 34 years, Ceciline "Babe" Franklin, with whom she moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1937. Ellis became the first African American woman to own an off-set printing business in that city. Her success as an entrepreneur from 1946 to 1971 inspired the couple to turn the home they shared into the “Gay Spot” – a place where young gays and lesbians, who were denied access to both white gay clubs and black straight clubs – could congregate and enjoy a welcoming night club atmosphere decades before the Black Civil Rights Movement and the Stonewall Riot would begin to alter their outlook and options. Ellis became a fierce advocate for African Americans, senior citizens, and the gay and lesbian communities. She offered assistance to lesbians of color researching their history and their roots; she proposed a variation on Big Brothers/Big Sisters, where younger gays and lesbians would be matched as social companions with gay and lesbian seniors according to similar interests; and the Ruth Ellis Center, founded in 1999, continues to provide shelter and aid for GLBTQ youth in Detroit. Her extraordinary life was chronicled in the acclaimed documentary Living With Pride: Ruth Ellis @ 100 (1999) and the city of Detroit recognizes her contributions every February, during Black History Month, by celebrating Ruth Ellis Day. She died in her sleep at her home on October 5, 2000, at the age of 101.

Plaque Sponsor

Fifth Third Bank

Lesson Plan


Gender Female

Sexual Orientation Lesbian

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity African American Black

Faith Construct Protestant

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) Cold War (1945-1991) Great Depression (1929-1939) Interwar Period (1918-1939) Post-Stonewall Era (1974-1980) Stonewall Era (1969-1974)

Field(s) of Contribution

Advocacy & Activism


Media & Communications

Social Justice

Social Sciences

US History

Commemorations & Honors

Ruth Ellis Day Celebrated in Detroit Every February During Black History Month

Living with Pride: Ruth Ellis @ 100 Documentary (1999)

Ruth Ellis Center Founded in Detroit (1999)

Posthumous Michigan Hall of Fame Inductee (2009)


Related Videos


Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Biography Vetted, Edited, and Certified By
Dr. Yvonne Welbon
Image Rights Usage Granted By
Dr. Yvonne Welbon
Image Source for Bronze Casting
Dr. Yvonne Welbon
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell