Ruth Hale, the daughter of a horse breeder and farmer, was born in Rogersville, Tennessee in 1887. Her father was a relgious rebel who was thrown out of the Presbyterian Church for rufusing to believe in the virgin birth. Ruth adored her father and was devastated when he died when she was eleven. Ruth's mother, Annie Riley Hale, held more traditional views and often clashed with her rebellious daughter. At the age of thirteen she was sent to the Hollins Institure in Roanoke, Virginia, to study music and painting. In 1903 she began attending Drexel Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia, where she studied painting and sculpture.
Hale was a strong advocate of women's suffrage. This brought her into conflict with her mother. As Richard O'Connor has pointed out: "Mrs. Annie Riley Hale was vigorously opposed to the feminist cause and took to the platform all over eastern Tennessee to inveigh against women's rights and declare that woman's place was in the home with her children." Her passion for political reform encouraged her to become a journalist and at the age of eighteen she became a reporter for the Washington Star. In 1899 she was employed as the drama critic of the Philadelphia Public Ledger.
Hale moved to New York City where she worked as a reporter for the New York Times and a drama critic for Vogue. Along with her friend, Alice Duer Miller, she was also a member of the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage (CUWS) that had been formed by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. The CUWS attempted to introduce the militant methods used by the Women's Social and Political Union in Britain. This included organizing huge demonstrations and the daily picketing of the White House.
In 1914 Hale met the journalist, Heywood Broun, at a baseball game at the Polo Grounds. According to the author of Heywood Broun: A Biography (1975): "From the moment he was introduced to Ruth Hale, he was intrigued by her - perhaps she reminded him of his strong-minded mother. Ruth was not a conventional beauty, but she had a striking face with large gray eyes and dark blond hair and a slender, willowy figure. Her vitality, her candor, her mental vigor and intellectual curiosity - and her combativeness - were apparent the moment you met her. She must have been the least coy, the least subtle female ever to emerge from the ranks of Southern womanhood. She laid it all on the line, take it or leave it. She challenged, questioned, hammered away at every preconception, particularly those affecting the male attitude toward her sex."
Dale Kramer has pointed out: "Ruth Hale was a small and well-constructed woman, a couple of years older than Broun... Her eyes attracted people as did Broun's, but hers were gray and large and mobile. Her high-bridged nose was slightly too large and her cheekbones were high. Her speaking voice was low and musical. But her mind was polished hard and brilliant. Ruth Hale was apt to attack head-on and without humor, except for mordant satire. She could usually dominate the conversation of a roomful of New York's sophisticates by charm or by force. It was charged that she prefered the latter."
Heywood Broun later recalled that they argued a great deal about feminism: "Nobody ever defeated Miss Hale in an argument. The dispute was about feminism. We both agreed that in law and art and industry and anything else you can think of men and women should be equal. Ruth Hale felt that this could be brought about only through the organization of women along sex lines." They became close friends and often took long walks together in Central Park. At first it was not a romantic relationship as Broun was engaged to Lydia Lopokova.
Hale became closer to Heywood Broun after his relationship with Lydia Lopokova came to an end when she decided to marry Randolfo Barocchi instead. She later recalled "my professional career involved me in a whirl of excitement. I felt I did not want to be tied up to Heywood - so I broke it off, hurting him very much at the time, I am sorry to say."
Broun now asked Hale to marry him. She agreed but only on the agreement that it would be a marriage of equals. She would retain her identity and independence. She would also continue to pursue her own career and that they would be co-equal heads of the household. Broun wanted children but Hale insisted that he would have to be satisfied with only one child. The couple were married on 7th June, 1917. Hale told Broun that "she was not and would never be known as Mrs. Broun; she was and always would be Ruth Hale."
Immediately after the wedding, Broun and Hale travelled to France to report on the First World War. Broun for the New York Tribune and Hale for the Chicago Tribune. They arrived with the first U.S. troop-bearing convoy. Their first articles covered the arrival at Saint-Nazaire of the American Expeditionary Forces but the American censor, Major Frederick Palmer, sat on their stories for five days on the theory that the arrival of the convoy would be of crucial interest to the enemy. Palmer objected to a passage in Broun's report where he claimed that the first remark of the first soldier to land was: "Do they allow enlisted men in the saloons in this town". Broun refused to remove it, arguing that his account made the soldiers more human. Palmer eventually allowed the article to be published.
Ruth Hale, who was one of the first women to report on the war, returned to the United States in December 1917 to give birth to her child. Heywood Hale Broun was born on 10th March, 1918. Heywood Broun now returned from France and wrote a series of articles for the New York Tribune without the risk of interference from censorship. Broun argued that troops on the Western Front were lacking guns, boots, warm clothing and decent food and "a proper and intelligent public opinion should not tolerate it". As a result of his complaints the supply system of the United States Army was reformed.
During the First World War three journalists, Robert E. Sherwood, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley, who all worked at Vanity Fair, began taking lunch together in the dining room at the Algonquin Hotel. Sherwood was six feet eight inches tall and Benchley was around six feet tall, Parker, who was five feet four inches, once commented that when she, Sherwood and Benchley walked down the street together, they looked like "a walking pipe organ."
According to Harriet Hyman Alonso , the author of Robert E. Sherwood The Playwright in Peace and War (2007): "John Peter Toohey, a theater publicist, and Murdock Pemberton, a press agent, decided to throw a mock "welcome home from the war" celebration for the egotistical, sharp-tongued columnist Alexander Woollcott. The idea was really for theater journalists to roast Woollcott in revenge for his continual self-promotion and his refusal to boost the careers of potential rising stars on Broadway. On the designated day, the Algonquin dining room was festooned with banners. On each table was a program which misspelled Woollcott's name and poked fun at the fact that he and fellow writers Franklin Pierce Adams (F.P.A.) and Harold Ross had sat out the war in Paris as staff members of the army's weekly newspaper, the Stars and Stripes, which Bob had read in the trenches. But it is difficult to embarrass someone who thinks well of himself, and Woollcott beamed at all the attention he received. The guests enjoyed themselves so much that John Toohey suggested they meet again, and so the custom was born that a group of regulars would lunch together every day at the Algonquin Hotel."
Murdock Pemberton later recalled that he owner of the hotel, Frank Case, did what he could to encourage this gathering: "From then on we met there nearly every day, sitting in the south-west corner of the room. If more than four or six came, tables could be slid along to take care of the newcomers. we sat in that corner for a good many months... Frank Case, always astute, moved us over to a round table in the middle of the room and supplied free hors d'oeuvre.... The table grew mainly because we then had common interests. We were all of the theatre or allied trades." Case admitted that he moved them to a central spot at a round table in the Rose Room, so others could watch them enjoy each other's company.
Ruth Hale and Heywood Broun often attended these lunches. This group eventually became known as the Algonquin Round Table. Other regulars at these lunches included Robert E. Sherwood, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Harold Ross, Donald Ogden Stewart, Edna Ferber, Franklin Pierce Adams, Jane Grant, Neysa McMein, Alice Duer Miller, Charles MacArthur, Marc Connelly, George S. Kaufman, Beatrice Kaufman , Frank Crowninshield, Ben Hecht, John Peter Toohey, Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt and Ina Claire.
The group played games while they were at the hotel. One of the most popular was "I can give you a sentence". This involved each member taking a multi syllabic word and turning it into a pun within ten seconds. Dorothy Parker was the best at this game. For "horticulture" she came up with, "You can lead a whore to culture, but you can't make her think." Another contribution was "The penis is mightier than the sword." They also played other guessing games such as "Murder" and "Twenty Questions". A fellow member, Alexander Woollcott, called Parker "a combination of Little Nell and Lady Macbeth." Arthur Krock, who worked for the New York Times, commented that "their wit was on perpetual display."
Edna Ferber wrote about her membership of the group in her book, A Peculiar Treasure (1939): "The contention was that this gifted group engaged in a log-rolling; that they gave one another good notices, praise-filled reviews and the like. I can't imagine how any belief so erroneous ever was born. Far from boosting one another they actually were merciless if they disapproved. I never have encountered a more hard-bitten crew. But if they liked what you had done they did say so, publicly and wholeheartedly. Their standards were high, their vocabulary fluent, fresh, astringent and very, very tough. Theirs was a tonic influence, one on the other, and all on the world of American letters. The people they could not and would not stand were the bores, hypocrites, sentimentalists, and the socially pretentious. They were ruthless towards charlatans, towards the pompous and the mentally and artistically dishonest. Casual, incisive, they had a terrible integrity about their work and a boundless ambition."
Marc Connelly pointed out: "Ruth Hale was a tireless champion of lost causes." In 1921 Ruth Hale established the Lucy Stone League. The first list of members included only fifty names. This included Heywood Broun, Neysa McMein, Beatrice Kaufman, Franklin Pierce Adams, Belle LaFollette, Freda Kirchwey, Anita Loos, Zona Gale, Janet Flanner and Fannie Hurst. Its principles were forcefully expressed in a booklet written by Hale: "We are repeatedly asked why we resent taking one man's name instead of another's why, in other words, we object to taking a husband's name, when all we have anyhow is a father's name. Perhaps the shortest answer to that is that in the time since it was our father's name it has become our own that between birth and marriage a human being has grown up, with all the emotions, thoughts, activities, etc., of any new person. Sometimes it is helpful to reserve an image we have too long looked on, as a painter might turn his canvas to a mirror to catch, by a new alignment, faults he might have overlooked from growing used to them. What would any man answer if told that he should change his name when he married, because his original name was, after all, only his father's? Even aside from the fact that I am more truly described by the name of my father, whose flesh and blood I am, than I would be by that of my husband, who is merely a co-worker with me however loving in a certain social enterprise, am I myself not to be counted for anything."
Hale became involved in a campaign against the New York City Council when it attempted to pass an ordinance prohibiting women from smoking in restaurants. Hale also insisted that she and Broun lived on separate floors of their three-story house. Broun agreed that men had an equal responsibility for bringing up children: "Most things that have to be done for children are the simplest sort. They should tax the intelligence of no one. Men profess a total lack of ability to wash baby's face simply because they believe there's no great fun in the business at either end of the sponge." Some of her friends believed that Hale was taking her feminism to extremes. The music composer, Deems Taylor, once said to her: "Ruth, you have more capacity for emotion than anybody I ever knew. I wish I had it, because if I did I wouldn't waste it in such narrow channels."
However, Broun admitted in Seeing Things at Night (1921) that they received a great deal of help bringing up their son, Heywood Hale Broun. "I have no feeling of being a traitor to my sex, when I say that I believe in at least a rough equality of parenthood. In shirking all the business of caring for children we have escaped much hard labor. It has been convenient. Perhaps it has been too convenient. If we have avoided arduous tasks, we have also missed much fun of a very special kind. like children in a toy shop, we have chosen to live with the most amusing of walking-and-talking dolls, without ever attempting to tear down the sign which says, Do not touch."
In 1923 Ruth Hale purchased Sabine Farm, near Stamford in Fairfield County. The original farm had three houses set a couple of hundred yards apart. Dale Kramer, later recalled: "The kind of people who till soil for a living would have called it a farm. A large portion was trees and brush and swamp an an acre or so of the rest was a shallow lake... The independence of the partners in the marriage was becoming ever more firmly established. Since Broun hadn't come in on the farm, it was necessary for him to make special arrangements to visit or board."
Heywood Broun became one of the most famous columnists writing in the United States. He admitted that Ruth Hale played an important role in writing his column. He later wrote: "She was not my severest critic. Her tolerance was broad to the mass of mediocre stuff the newspaper hack is bound to produce in seventeen years. Nobody else, I suppose, ever gave me such warm support and approbation for those afternoons when I did my best. She made me feel ashamed when I faltered, and I suppose that for seventeen years practically every word I wrote was set down with the feeling that Ruth Hale was looking over my shoulder."
The drama critic, George Oppenheimer, a close friend of the couple, later recalled they made an excellent partnership: "Forgetful, sloppy and neurotic, he had inherent goodness, a crusading courage against ills and injustices, and a loyalty rare in mankind. He was a knight in ill-fitting, slightly rusty armor, but a knight nonetheless... It was Ruth Hale who, more often than not, buckled on Heywood's armor and sent him into battle. Not that he had to be pushed, but Ruth was a fellow crusader and thought up new causes and new crusades for him to pursue."
After the birth of Heywood Hale Broun Ruth returned to journalism. This included writing book reviews for New York World. She was invited by Hans von Kaltenborn, to write a regular column for The Brooklyn Eagle but refused when she discovered that she had to write under the name, "Mrs. Heywood Broun". Dale Kramer the author of Heywood Broun (1949) has pointed out: "Ruth Hale stuck gamely to the war for her name and identity. By now the massive public figure of Broun was nearly suffocating. Her sporadic efforts to pick up her career after the birth of her son had not brought satisfaction... Ruth Hale now wrote under her own name mostly of divorce and other marriage problems. She still complemented Broun.... Ruth Hale served him still as a stringent but fair critic of his work. Together they thrashed out answers to ethical problems and affairs of the day."
At the end of 1928 Ruth and Heywood agreed to separate but not to divorce. According to one source: "Neither had any moral or religious antipathy for divorce, but it seemed somehow, an unfriendly act." They sold their house in New York City and moved into separate quarters. even so they were separated only by seven or eight blocks that lay between her apartment on East 51st Street and his penthouse flat on West 58th Street.
In 1933 Ruth and Heywood Broun resumed living together at the Hotel Des Artistes in Manhattan. They also spent more time with each other at Sabine Farm. However, although they enjoyed each other's company, Ruth found the relationship difficult. Richard O'Connor has argued: "It must have galled her to watch Broun toss off a column or an article in less than an hour while she sweated for days over a similar composition... She could not ride herself of the conviction that somehow, as long as she was married to Broun, she was deprived of her individuality, even her identity." Broun finally agreed to a divorce, which she obtained in Mexico on 17th November, 1933.
Ruth had not been in good health for sometime. Friends commented that she was so thin she was almost emaciated. She told Luella Henkel: "After forty a woman is through. I'm going to make myself die." In the summer of 1934 Ruth became ill while staying at Sabine Farm. Broun arrived to look after all but she refused to allow a doctor to be called. Ruth Hale died on 18th September.
Heywood Broun wrote in the New York Telegram the next day: "My best friend died yesterday. I would not mention this but for the fact that Ruth Hale was a valiant fighter in an important cause. Concerning her major contention we were in almost complete disagreement for seventeen years. Out of a thousand debates bates I lost a thousand. Nobody ever defeated Miss Hale in an argument. The dispute was about feminism. We both agreed that in law and art and industry and anything else you can think of men and women should be equal. Ruth Hale felt that this could be brought about only through the organization of women along sex lines.... It was a curious collaboration, because Ruth Hale gave me out of the very best she had to equip me for the understanding of human problems. She gave this under protest, with many reservations, and a vast rancor. But she gave."
We are repeatedly asked why we resent taking one man's name instead of another's why, in other words, we object to taking a husband's name, when all we have anyhow is a father's name. Perhaps the shortest answer to that is that in the time since it was our father's name it has become our own that between birth and marriage a human being has grown up, with all the emotions, thoughts, activities, etc., of any new person. Sometimes it is helpful to reserve an image we have too long looked on, as a painter might turn his canvas to a mirror to catch, by a new alignment, faults he might have overlooked from growing used to them.
What would any man answer if told that he should change his name when he married, because his original name was, after all, only his father's? Even aside from the fact that I am more truly described by the name of my father, whose flesh and blood I am, than I would be by that of my husband, who is merely a co-worker with me however loving in a certain social enterprise, am I myself not to be counted for anything.
The Lucy Stone League snowballed, under the efforts of its highly articulate directorate, to a membership of five thousand. It provided Ruth Hale with a cause and a career of her own, frustrated as she had felt herself to be by the failure of her artistic ambitions and later by her inability to achieve stature as a writer. She continued to be the mainstay of Heywood's flourishing career, his most unsparing critic, his personal gadfly. A good share of his success was attributable to Ruth Hale's influence, as he was always the first to admit. Ruth kept him stirred up. She may not have actually booted him into the many controversies which marked his career, but without her he probably would not have joined so many crusades or shaped himself into a top-ranking public enemy of the surviving puritanism in American life
and its reluctance to undertake social reforms. It would be easy to imagine that if Heywood had never met Ruth, he would have stayed an amiable, boozy member of the sportswriting fraternity. Easy, but unjust. He simply warmed to combat a lot quicker under Ruth's goading.
If he ever hoped that time would mellow her, that gradually she would submerge her own identity in an atmosphere of domestic tranquility, he was to be sorely disappointed. Ruth only became more vigorously feminist and independent. She threw herself into the struggle when the City Council attempted to pass an ordinance prohibiting women from smoking in restaurants. She insisted that she and Heywood lead separate lives, to the extent that they made their own friends and lived on separate floors of their three-story brownstone on the West Side.
Heywood accepted all this and made it plain his acceptance was based on principle rather than the conventional wish of a browbeaten husband to appease an aggressive woman. In an essay written during the time of the Lucy Stone League's organization, he wrote that the oldest masculine ploy in history was a man's claim that he had no aptitude for domestic chores or for sharing in the responsibility for rearing children. Men had been getting away for centuries, he noted, with the claim that household chores required some special knack, which only the female was born with. Men claimed they couldn't sew on a button even though they could build railroads across deserts and mountains.
Ruth Hale stuck gamely to the war for her name and identity. By now the massive public figure of Broun was nearly suffocating. Her sporadic efforts to pick up her career after the birth of her son had not brought satisfaction... Ruth Hale now wrote under her own name mostly of divorce and other marriage problems. She still complemented Broun.... Ruth Hale served him still as a stringent but fair critic of his work. Together they thrashed out answers to ethical problems and affairs of the day.
My best friend died yesterday. I would not mention this but for the fact that Ruth Hale was a valiant fighter in an important cause. Concerning her major contention we were in almost complete disagreement for seventeen years. Out of a thousand debates bates I lost a thousand. Nobody ever defeated Miss Hale in an argument. The dispute was about feminism. We both agreed that in law and art and industry and anything else you can think of men and women should be equal. Ruth Hale felt that this could be brought about only through the organization of women along sex lines. I think that this equality will always be an inevitable and essential part of any thoroughgoing economic upheaval. "Come on and be a radical," I used to say, but Miss Hale insisted on being a militant feminist - all that and nothing more and nothing less...
Decidedly I was not unsympathetic with the Lucy Stone League, of which Miss Hale was the president and prime mover. I agree thoroughly with the slogan of that association, which runs: "My name is the symbol of my identity, and must not be lost." Men as well as women live by symbols. But when I spoke of the brotherhood of mankind Miss Hale insisted on changing it into the sisterhood of womankind. "Mankind embraces womankind," I argued with due grammatical license. "It - works just as well the other way," she responded, and the vigor of her drive moved me invariably to amend the familiar phrase and make it run, "Are we mice or women,"
I could hardly deny the assertion that the Western world is still stacked in favor of the male sex. I refer less to existing gross inequalities in law than to the force of custom and tradition. This came closely home to both of us. When we met we were reporters, and I have never denied that Ruth Hale was the better newspaperman of the two. I think the things which held her back were biological. Brisbanes don't have babies.
Vicarious expression was of no use to her. I may as well admit right off something which will soon be evident. A very considerable percentage of all newspaper columns, books and magazine articles which appeared under the name "Heywood Broun" were written by Ruth Hale. I mean, of course, the better columns. And even those which I felt I was writing on my own stemmed from her.
It was a curious collaboration, because Ruth Hale gave me out of the very best she had to equip me for the understanding of human problems. She gave this under protest, with many reservations, and a vast rancor. But she gave.
I understood then and will always understand the inevitable bitterness of the person who projects herself through another, even if that one is close. Of course, in regard to a few minor points I felt that I was standing on my own feet. Miss Hale could never quite convince me that she could keep a boxscore of a baseball game more accurately than I could. What she could not realize was the fact that she demonstrated to me, at any rate, the kind of equality which inches up to a decided superiority. Since it is true that very many of the ideas for which I seem to be sponsor are really hers, in the last analysis I am the utterly dependent person.
She was not my severest critic. Her tolerance was broad to the mass of mediocre stuff the newspaper hack is bound to produce in seventeen years. Nobody else, I suppose, ever gave me such warm support and approbation for those afternoons when I did my best. She made me feel ashamed when I faltered, and I suppose that for seventeen years practically every word I wrote was set down with the feeling that Ruth Hale was looking over my shoulder.
It would be a desperately lonely world if I did not feel that personality is of such tough fiber that in some manner it must survive and does survive. I still feel that she is looking over my shoulder.
Ruth Hale was a tireless champion of lost causes. The good writing with which she trumpeted Arthur Hopkins' plays revealed a lively, highly intelligent mind. In her private world she was an ardent feminist. She founded the Lucy Stone League dedicated to the protection of woman's individuality. Among its insistences were that married women be permitted to retain their maiden names. Jane Grant, Janet Flanner, Fola LaFollette, and Freda Kirchwey were among those who became resolute members. "A rolling stone gathers no boss," said George Kaufman. Heywood Broun heartily agreed with Ruth's principles. When anyone addressed her as "Mrs. Broun" after they were married he or she was emphatically told that that was not her name. For years Ruth conducted a one-woman war with the State Department, which, because of her marital status, refused to issue a passport to Ruth Hale. Eventually she was told that she could have a passport issued to "Mrs. Heywood Broun (known as Ruth Hale.)" She continued to forgo leaving the United States. When her young son, Heywood Hale Broun, was recuperating from an illness in a school in California, Ruth decided to assure herself of his recovery by visiting him. Expecting Ruth to telephone him in New York about the boy's progress, Heywood was concerned when after five days he had not heard from her. He telephoned the school but was told that she had not arrived. The next day he received a telegram from her from Kansas City. Ruth's devotion to justice for her sex had caused her to interrupt her dash westward on the "Chief". She had involved herself in a local murder trial and telegraphed: "Mrs. Clavering Must Not Hang!"