Ruth Hooper, long-time Newberry donor and family history patron, passed away February 25, 2011 at age 86. She was first exposed to family history when her mother hired three cousins during the Depression to build a summer cabin at their ancestral farm in the Catskills. The family had been in that remote valley since 1769, and summers spent listening to family stories were important to a girl whose father had died when she was six. Ruth held tightly to family throughout her life.
After volunteering in the Navy during World War II and completing a political science degree at Northwestern University, she worked in advertising and involved herself in Chicago politics before marrying lawyer George Hooper and moving to La Grange, Illinois. For years she was active in La Grange civic affairs, as a PTA president, and as a leader of various women’s and political groups. In 1965, she found time to join the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and her family history research took off.
She found that through the father she barely knew she was related to three generations of outstanding female artists. Her aunt Increase Robinson was a painter and a controversial Illinois Director of the WPA Art Project. Ruth’s grandmother, Josephine Reichmann, was a well-known painter who exhibited at the Century of Progress Exhibition, and her great-grandmother Julia Lemos painted the “Memories of the Chicago Fire,” a large canvas that was displayed for many years at the Chicago Historical Society. It made Ruth realize that the story of history in personal papers and original documents was more exciting, dramatic, and vivid than history read in a textbook. She served as Regent of the La Grange DAR Chapter in the 1970s.
After raising three children and sending them to college, Ruth moved back to Chicago, where she promptly ran unsuccessfully for Congress and devoted her time to the DAR, the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and the Newberry. In the Chicago DAR, she served as registrar for many years, helping dozens research their family trees. When she was sick and house-bound, the DAR came to her, meeting at her house from 2004-2009. She was a long-time contributor to the Newberry’s Annual Fund and championed the Newberry as vice-president of the Allen-Heath Foundation, which contributed significant endowment funds to establish the Allen-Heath Ruth R. Hooper Fund to help support the local and family history section. The foundation also helped purchase new microfilm readers one year, and in another year helped support a family history intern.
She believed the Newberry to be the finest genealogical resource in the region, and family history to be an underutilized source of connecting to history and correcting misperceptions of the past. She was particularly interested in restoring the under-remembered roles of women.
Those interested in helping to support the vital work she cared so much about can make a donation in her memory to the Ruth Hooper Memorial Fund of the Newberry’s Annual Fund.
Many thanks to Jeff Hooper and the rest of Ruth’s family for contributing information to this article.