My Mother Was a Rebel

Her first demonstration of this attribute occurred when she was eight months old.

Her father, spoiled baby of his widowed mother and five doting older brothers, early on learned that he could get his way by giving full vent to temper tantrums. This particular day he was giving the family a full demonstration of shouting, growling, stamping his feet, and flailing his arms. The entire household cowered in the background, each person trying to be unobtrusive. All, that is, except for little Ruthie …

Little Ruthie, not yet able to walk, was hanging onto the door knob watching her father’s performance. When the moment came that he was taking a deep breath and all was quiet, Ruthie, with full vigor, performed her imitation of him, shouting her baby sounds, stamping her feet, and waving her free arm. The rest of the family had to bite their lips, hold their stomachs, and hide the fact they were doubled over with laughter.

Eighteen years later Ruth, a graduate from Wooster, Ohio’s Presbyterian Normal School, and with a year’s teaching first grade under her belt, was very unhappy. She didn’t like teaching school, her family had all moved to San Francisco, and she missed them terribly. She decided she would join them but she had no money. Her best answer, she decided, was to ride the rails.

Ruth Smilie Adair and her basketball team. Ruth is the one with the biggest bow and the biggest smile
Ruth Smilie Adair and her basketball team. Ruth is the one with the biggest bow and the biggest smile

She went to the Salvation Army store and bought boys’ clothes. She went home and cut off her hair that she had been proud that it was long enough for her to sit upon. Dressed as a boy, she went down to the railroad and boarded herself onto an empty freight car. The train started, and she thought she was on her way until a couple of miles out of town the train stopped to take on water, and the Railroad Cops came through. They grabbed her by the arms and took her down to the Police Station. She knew the minute she said anything they would know she was a girl, so she kept quiet, wanting to portray her self as a strong, silent type.

At the Police Station they kept trying to make her talk, and she succeeded in being quiet until she realized that in her shirt pocket she had a notebook that had her uncle’s phone number penciled on the front page. She was afraid for them to find the number because he was president of a local college and would not forgive her for her disgraceful behavior if it became public knowledge. She decided that if she put her thumb in her mouth and got it wet, she could rub her thumb over the phone number and smear the number so that it would be unrecognizable.

The minute she got her thumb in her mouth two police men grabbed her. (She later said that they thought she was taking drugs from under her nails.) She squealed, and then they immediately knew she was a girl. Then they found her uncle’s number, called him, and he came down to the station, completely furious with her. He told her that he would give her the money to get to San Francisco but she had to promise that she would never darken Ohio’s borders again. She rode through to San Francisco, and with shorn hair, met her family, and spent the night.

The next morning on the doorstep was the San Francisco newspaper with huge headlines across the top of the first page, IRENE CASTLE BOBS HER HAIR.

Thus our Ruthie, was the first flapper in San Francisco to set the trend of bobbed hair. She never let it grow again.



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