Skip to main contentSSC Home Smith College Libraries

SSC Home  |  Contact us  |  Search site  
Logo of the YWCA of India

“An Ever-Widening Circle of Friendship”:
YWCA Overseas Secretaries from China to Liberia

Ruth Lois Hill (1906-circa 2005)

Liberia YWCA staff: Ruth Hill, Nancy Martin,
and Beatrice Branche, Monrovia, 1952
1906 Born 22 August, Norfolk, Massachusetts
1929 B.A., Boston University; active in student YWCA; YWCA summer training school for rural secretaries
1929-34 YWCA Secretary, Johnstown, Pennsylvania
1934-37 YWCA Group Work Secretary, Brockton, Massachusetts
1937-41 YWCA General Secretary, Billings, Montana
1941-42 Administrator, Mission Center Branch, YWCA, San Francisco
1945-52 YWCA of the USA Community Division Staff, Advisory Secretary to small associations in the West
1952-59 YWCA of the USA International Division Staff as Advisory Secretary to the YWCA of the Republic of Liberia
1959-63 YWCA of the USA Eastern Region Staff, New England area
1963-65 YWCA of the USA Correlator, Southern Region, for nine southern states, based in Atlanta
1965-71 YWCA of the USA Associate Executive Director, Program, New York City
1971 Retired

View finding aid for Ruth Lois Hill Papers

YWCA Public Affairs Committee, Liberia, 1951
Photograph by Griff Davis

“[The president of the YWCA] is a delightful person, very able and with real conviction about the YWCA. She feels that it has more to give to Liberia at this moment than any other organization, since the women need activities and leadership training and there are scarcely any organizations for women in the country. The YWCA is a ‘natural ’in a country where most of your leadership is mission educated and the government is avowedly Christian.”

[Ruth Hill to her family, 28 November 1952]

“I have a wonderful place to live with two young ex-missionaries who are now employed on the Liberian government literacy campaign…. With a cook, house boy, laundry boy and water boy, we scarcely have to lift a hand around the house.”

[Ruth Hill to her family, 28 November 1952]

Ruth Hill (second from left) with housemates Lucerne Montague, Helen Lawson, and Norma Bloomquist who all worked for the Liberian National Literacy Campaign, circa 1950s

“One Secretary was appalled to discover how naturally she assumed one of her adopted culture’s least desirable traits. ‘Two days off the boat and one feels a noticeable change in oneself. From whence cometh that lordly voice with which I hear myself calling, ‘Boy, tea’.’”

[Nancy Boyd, Emissaries: The Overseas Work of the American YWCA, 1895-1970 (New York : Woman’s Press, 1986)]

Art exhibition and reception sponsored by the YWCA and YMCA at Firestone Rubber Plantation, undated
Note on reverse: “One of the first times Liberians were welcomed to the Club House on the plantations”
Letter from Ruth Hill to her mother, describing upcoming Christmas party in Liberia, 14 December 1952
Christmas party “doll show,” 1952

“Practically every home in Monrovia has a number of children that have been given or perhaps I should say loaned by their parents, who either don’t want the responsibility or want the children to have an education. The whole conception of home and family life is so different from ours that I find I can only observe, and feel strongly that I have no right to judge…. Missionaries continue to push for monogamy and a Christian family life but they are certainly fighting an uphill battle when the leaders in the government hold a different view.”

[Ruth Hill to her mother, 27 January 1953]

Ruth M. Martins, Ruth Hill’s godchild.

“At one of our teas I watched the woman who is assistant secretary of war, and who spoke very well at our National YWCA convention in the U.S., take two pieces of cake every time the plate came her way, and wrap it in a napkin to take home…. The caterer says he can’t keep a buffet table filled because they swarm so…. Maybe it’s because many of them are, or have been, hungry much of their lives. Most of them eat only once a day.”

[Ruth Hill to her sister 15 February 1953]

Suggestions for Women’s Rally
“Suggestions for our Women’s Rally”
Women’s Rally booklet, 1954

“…a week ago Friday…we had a ‘Fellowship Dinner’ at the YWCA…[At 3:30] there was no sign of the committee or the food…or any of the board members. We finally started the program at 4:30, the food arrived at 5:30,…dessert at 6:30…We foreigners were fretty to have to wait so long but the Liberians sat around as if nothing mattered…I’m baffled! Is it important to have things begin on time and have some plan of organization?…As long as it doesn’t matter to them perhaps I ought not to fret, but on the other hand, they need and want the moral and financial support of the foreign group which they just won’t get if things go on like that.”

[Ruth Hill to her sister, 15 February 1953]

Y-teens in Liberia (Ruth Hill on right), circa 1956
Clara Davies Brown, 1958
Photograph by M.G. Hilton’s Studio

“Experience in their adopted culture made [Secretaries] question attitudes and practices in the United States that they had taken for granted. Should there be such a stigma against illegitimacy when it is the child who carries the burden? Is romantic love and monogamous marriage, the ideal presented by American Christianity, the universal answer to the relationship between the sexes?…Is the Association program equally suited to all cultures?”

[Nancy Boyd, Emissaries: The Overseas Work of the American YWCA, 1895-1970]

“When I get to thinking how queer their Christianity is to wink at chastity and the sanctity of the home I think about our Christian churches divided on the basis of color and realize that each of us seems to have our own interpretation of Christ’s teachings, and our particular blind spots. At first glimpse the differences here struck me, then I no longer noticed the women with things on their heads…Now I become increasingly aware of deeper differences – family is important and any family trouble is an excuse for not going to work;…one must show respect for elders; standards of morality and honesty are different from ours – so that after two years this place feels more like a strange place than it did at the end of 6 months, after the first external strangeness had become common place.”

[Ruth Hill to her sister, 17 October 1954]

Liberian delegates to YWCA conference
in Nigeria (Ruth Hill at left), 1954
Letters to Ruth Hill from YWCA members in Liberia: Nancy Randall Martin (1959) and Beatrice Branche (1961)

“Agents of American Feminism, the Secretaries were also agents of the women they served. The initial invitation and their ultimate placement were at the discretion of the host Association. They recognized their limitations as foreigners…In writing home, the American Secretaries increasingly sided with the interests of their adopted country.”

[Nancy Boyd, Emissaries: The Overseas Work of the American YWCA, 1895-1970]

“August, 1952 seems eons ago, and I feel as though I have learned a lot about life, and people and what is really important. The ways of the people here sometimes amaze me still, but their deep seated charity makes me conscious of our, all too often, harsh judgments. While their tendency to put the feelings of people before the need to get a job done is sometimes frustrating, I’m sure that we sometimes sacrifice human values for ‘efficiency.’ The problems and possibilities of this small section of Africa have become mine to some extent and this opportunity to ‘sit where they sit’ has given me some valuable new perspectives.”

[circular letter from Ruth Hill, Holy Week, 1959]

Back to top

Go to next exhibit page

Exhibit Home | Introduction | Cotton | George | Hill | Lucke | Woodsmall | Additional sources

Contact us | Search our site | Site map | Terms of use Smith College Libraries  |  Smith College Home Page
 © 2008 Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063 Page last updated on Monday, 27 January 2014