Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Lillie Ruth Hale, of Rogersville, Tennessee: Synopsis and Commentary (published 4-24-2024; article #467)


Who was Lillie Ruth Hale, and how is she connected to Rogersville, Tennessee, my hometown? Last week, the question came to mind, while listening to “The Yarbrough Show,” on NewsTalk 98.7 FM (Knoxville, Tennessee). The guest mentioned that Lillie Ruth Hale was from Rogersville. Hearing only a snippet of the segment, I missed the full conversation about her. I started researching, to satisfy my curiosity. Apparently, she preferred her middle name, Ruth.

This 32nd entry, under the topic section Appalachia - Northeast Tennessee, provides a synopsis about Lillie Ruth Hale, followed by my commentary. As a note to readers, who may wonder, Ruth Hale did not have a family connection to the historic Hale Springs Inn, which was owned by John A. McKinney and built in 1824. The Hale Springs mineral health resort was nearby, in what became known as Pressmen's Home.


Ruth Hale was born in Rogersville, Tennessee, on 7/5/1886. At age 48, on 9/18/1934, she passed away, in Stamford, Connecticut. Her ashes are interred at the Old Presbyterian Church Cemetery, in Rogersville. (Source: “Ruth Hale Broun,” Find a Grave®.)

Ruth Hale, the journalist, is a 2024 posthumous inductee/honoree, in the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. (Source: Inductees/Honorees, East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame.) She is one of thirteen inductees/honorees this year. The following is cited as the reason for her inclusion:

Ruth Hale (1887-1934) was a journalist and women’s rights activist. Born in Rogersville, Tennessee, Hale began writing for the Hearst Bureau in Washington, DC, when she was eighteen. She wrote for several influential newspapers and magazines, including the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Public Ledger, the New York Times, Vogue, the Chicago Tribune, and Vanity Fair. Hale was also a popular socialite and theatrical publicist and was a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table. Outside of her journalism career, Hale is best remembered as cofounder of the Lucy Stone League, a feminist organization which fought for the rights of women to own property, receive paychecks, and register to vote using their maiden names even after marriage. She is buried in her East Tennessee hometown.

Her parents, James Richards Hale and Annie Riley Hale, were prominent residents in Rogersville. They had two children. Ruth Hale was the oldest. The Hales owned a large house near the town. James Hale was a lawyer and horse breeder. (Interestingly, Ruth Hale refused to ride a horse sidesaddle.) Annie Hale, who lived to age 85, taught high school mathematics. James Hale was expelled from the Presbyterian Church, for not believing in the virgin birth of Jesus. His tragic passing, at age 41, negatively affected Ruth Hale, who was only ten years old at the time. Growing up, Ruth Hale and her mother often “butted heads” on social and political issues.

At age 13, Ruth Hale left home and continued her education in Roanoke, Virginia. She finished her formal education in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In Washington, D.C., at age 18, Ruth Hale began her career as a freelance journalist. She became a feature writer for several publications. She also became a champion for women's rights.

In New York City, on 6/6/2017, Heywood Campbell Broun (age 28, also a journalist) and Ruth Hale (age 30) were united in marriage. She refused to take his last name, defied the traditional floral bouquet, rejected the traditional wedding music, and refused to exchange wedding rings.

The newlywed couple became World War I correspondents in France, until Ruth Hale became with child. The couple returned to New York City, and their only child, a son, was born on 3/10/1918.

Afterward, Heywood Broun and Ruth Hale, although still married, lived on separate floors of their New York City home. They continued their careers in journalism, with Hale often assisting Broun. Ruth Hale continued to advance her social and political agendas, for which she became well-known. The couple lived together or separately, as the years unfolded.

In the late 1920s, Ruth Hale often lived alone and secluded at Sabine Farm, in Stamford, Connecticut. After 16 years and five months of marriage, Ruth Hale traveled to Mexico and obtained a divorce from her husband. Heywood Broun agreed, and their divorce was finalized on 11/17/1933.

Ten months and a day after their divorce, Ruth Hale passed away, at 48, on 9/18/1934. Her health had deteriorated. She had lost the use of her legs, stopped eating, and refused medical assistance. Her body was cremated.

Ruth Hale's mother, Annie Riley Hale, arranged to have the cremated remains of her daughter interred at the Old Presbyterian Church Cemetery, in Rogersville. A train brought Ruth Hale's ashes to Rogersville, but a dispatcher had mistaken the urn for a bottle of pepper. He had placed the urn on a local grocery store shelf. The urn was retrieved and interred by her father's grave, in the Old Presbyterian Church Cemetery.

This summary relies on the following additional sources: “Rogersville native Ruth Hale fought for Women’s Rights, The Rogersville Review, by Rodney Ferrell, 4/2/2023; “Ruth Hale,” Spartacus Educational, by John Simkin, 09/1997 (updated 01/2020); “Ruth Hale’s Fight for Her Name,” New-York Historical Society, by Emma Finn (Intern, Center for Women’s History), 8/13/2021; “Ruth Hale the Iconoclast,” Algonquin Round Table, by Kevin Fitzpatrick, 4/25/2022; “James Richards Hale,” Find a Grave®; and “Heywood Campbell Broun,” Find a Grave®.


How did Ruth Hale's parents, James Richards Hale and Annie Riley Hale, get along? Both seemed to be intellectual. James Hale's opinion about the virgin birth of Jesus was a grave error, of course. What sparked Ruth Hale's forceful positions on the social and political issues of her time? We may never know.

Ruth Hale's journalistic accomplishments are notable. Her advocacy for the right of women to vote helped win that right (the 19th Amendment, 8/18/1920). She fought for a woman's right to own property in her own name. Ruth Hale seemed to be very strong-willed. I admire strong will, if it is headed in the right direction.

Reading about Ruth Hale, I found her life story somewhat disheartening and tragic. Her brilliance seemed to be quixotic in some pursuits, as if chasing windmills.


Ultimately, was Ruth Hale a Christian? Was she saved by the grace of God, through Christ Jesus? Unfortunately, none of the sources that I found included any information on these vital questions.

What will be your life's legacy? What will be mine? What will be inscribed on our tombstones?

The inspired wisdom of Solomon concludes Ecclesiastes (12:13-14, NIV) by stating:

Now all has been heard;
  here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
  for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
  including every hidden thing,
  whether it is good or evil.

“Fear” is understood in the sense of reverence. The complete understanding is that loving reverence for God inspires the doing of His will. God saves us to serve Him, for His glory and our everlasting joy. That is the whole and complete purpose and meaning of life. Anything less comes up everlastingly too short. We either aim high and hit the mark, to our everlasting benefit, or we aim low and miss the target, to our everlasting sorrow.

I would like my tombstone to read, “He was a former poor beggar, who found the Bread of Life. He lived life, trying to share that Bread.”

What about you, dear reader?


Anonymous said...

This is an interesting post. I hope Ruth Hale was saved.

M. Fearghail said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for your comment. I hope so, too. Her obituary does not state if she was or not.