Ruth Gillespie Winter

Honored by:
Brick location:G:7  map

Ruth Gillespie Winter was born February 10, 1900, in Stillwater, Minnesota, the second daughter of Grace Bolton Gillespie and James Gillespie. Her older sister, Dorothy, died in childhood of scarlet fever. Her brother, James, was born two years after Ruth; a sister, Marcia, was born 10 years after Ruth. Her father was a member of one of Stillwater's oldest families. At one time, the family had money accumulated as lumber barons on the St. Croix. They lost it prior to Ruth's birth. Her father had to cancel his plans to enroll at the exclusive prep school in Groton, Connecticut, and settled for a job in a bank in Stillwater. Her mother came to Stillwater as the high school art teacher. Some of Ruth's earliest--and happiest--memories revolved around water. The family spent summers at Big Carnelian Lake, seven miles northwest of Stillwater. At first they lived in a tent; a primitive cabin was built at a later date. Her father, a bank teller, rode a horse to work each day. She loved canoeing on the St. Croix from Taylors Falls to Bayport. She graduated from Stillwater High School in 1918 and wanted to go to college. Her parents agreed that higher education was appropriate for her but insisted that she attend the University of Minnesota. She could live with her maternal grandparents in Minneapolis, thereby saving the family a considerable amount of money. Spending her college days in the home of her rockbound Methodist grandparents who declared that her mother was going straight to hell because she learned to dance was not Ruth's idea of how she wanted to spend her college years. As much as she wanted to go college, four years in the home of her grandparents was too great a price to pay. She discussed her problem with her high school principal, who suggested that she teach for a few years save her money and then go to college. He showed her an advertisement for a country school teacher in the North Dakota Badlands. When she protested that she did not have the qualifications (a normal school certificate), the principal responded by adding credits of normal school to her high school record. Therefore at the age of 18, she boarded a train in St. Paul and disembarked in Medora, North Dakota. The family with whom she would be boarding would bring the wagon to pick her up the next day; she had to spend the night in the only hotel in town above a saloon straight out of a Hollywood western. She piled all of the furniture in the room in front of the door and still spent the night wide-eyed fearful for her safety. She spent four years teaching in a one-room school on the Little Missouri. One spring, the river came up and she and the children were marooned. They stayed in the school house for several weeks and their families took turns bringing food and supplies by boat. In the winter of 1922, she contracted scarlet fever. She dismissed school early and rode home, stopping several times to roll in the snow to cool her body. She paid $45 (a dollar a mile) for a visit by a doctor from Dickinson. Her hair all fell out, causing her great problems in the early twenties when short hair was considered a sign of promiscuity. Her application photograph was taken directly head-on. Her short hair is fluffed out, giving the impression of a knot of hair at the back of her head. With her savings, she entered Duluth State Teachers' College (now the University of Minnesota-Duluth). She selected Duluth rather than a college or university in the Twin Cities area because freshmen from Stillwater who were attending Twin Cities colleges would know that she was four years older than they. She graduated from a two-year teacher training program and began looking for a teaching position. One of the openings was for a junior high school social studies teacher in Redwood Falls, Minnesota. Her father recommended the community, remembering it as a lovely small city along the Redwood River. As was typical at the time, she boarded with a family. She and some of her friends, also teachers, wanted to go horseback riding. "Leigh Winter will know where to find horses," they were advised. He was a mail carrier in the Redwood Falls Post Office. They were married in the Episcopalian Church in Stillwater on July 8, 1926. They returned from their northern Minnesota honeymoon to the first of the three houses they shared during their 40 years of marriage. The home, located in Redwood Falls on the bluff of the Redwood River, was purchased with cash. She stopped teaching, of course; married women only taught if they were the sole support for their families. Besides their house on the property there were three cottages that were rented and they had a boat rental business. They wanted children very much. After two or three miscarriages, they adopted an infant, Donald Leigh, born November 9, 1930. She had a couple miscarriages after his adoption as well. Much to her surprise, she found herself pregnant at the age of 39. A daughter, Mar