Every February, the US celebrates Black History Month. It is a special time to recognize and honor famous African Americans who have made a significant impact in the past and present. The Historic Costume & Textiles Collection was the recipient of a donation of several garments made by a talented seamstress who also had a larger claim to fame. Dr. Ruth Ella Moore was an alumna of The Ohio State University, and the first African American woman to earn a PhD in the natural sciences.
Born in 1903 in Columbus, Ohio, to William E. and Margaret Moore, Ruth Ella Moore was the daughter of an accomplished artist. Her mother had graduated from the Columbus State College of Art and Design. She had encouraged Ruth from a young age to pursue a higher degree of education. Ruth and her two older brothers, Donovan L and William E. Moore, were educated in the public schools in Columbus, Ohio. Ruth Moore attended the Ohio State University for both her undergraduate and graduate degrees. In 1925, she graduated from the university and then went on to receive a Masters of Science Degree in 1927. She continued to further her education by earning her PhD in bacteriology from the Ohio State University.
After receiving her doctorate in 1933, she officially became the first African American woman to earn a graduate degree in the natural sciences. Howard University quickly hired her in 1940 as an assistant professor in the medical college, where she would stay until her retirement in 1973. Throughout her time at Howard, she managed to move up as chairperson for the Bacteriology Department, became associate professor, and conducted research in bacteriology. Moore was also a member of the American Association of Science, American Society of Immunology, American Society of Microbiology, and the American Public Health Association. She earned two additional honorary degrees as well. They included a doctorate in Literature from Oberlin College and a Doctor of Philosophy from Gettysburg University in 1973.
Besides being a well known scientist, Ruth Ella Moore was also a seamstress. She received a love of fashion and an elegant, classic style from her mother, the artist. Moore was known to sew much of what she wore. In fact, she made a great majority of her entire wardrobe without having any type of degree in clothing design and construction. Keeping with the latest style and fashion, she was known to carefully select her patterns and materials for crafting the outfits. Several of her garments were featured in The Sewer’s Art: Quality, Fashion and Economy, in 2009. Ruth Ella Moore died July 19, 1994.
Ruth Ella Moore garments from The Sewer’s Art:
Two piece woman’s off white long sleeve jacket and black skirt, suit. The jacket has two black triangular inset sections below the shoulders and a black-notched collar. Five, large covered buttons form the front closure.
The black and white color scheme is carried over into the asymmetrical hat, pieced with black and white felt swirling shapes. It’s stand-up style is reminiscent of the crowns worn by Nefertiti in ancient Egypt.
This red-violet velvet floor length evening dress is part of an ensemble. Cut on the bias grain, it’s bodice has gathered inset sections at the side-fronts. Not shown in the picture is the second piece to the ensemble, a long green velvet jacket with padded and extended shoulders and a shaped hemline.
A long taffeta dress with pink, blue, yellow, and green floral pattern has short draped sleeves with gathering at their sides. The draped bodice molds the body to the hips where it joins the floor length circular, four-piece skirt on a shaped line. The seam below the V-shaped neckline confines the fullness at center-front.
One of Ruth Ella Moore’s swimsuits is currently on display in HCTC’s Sports & Fashion exhibition. It is not certain if she crafted the bathing suit herself or if it was bought ready-made. It has no manufacturers’ labels and dates from the 1930s either during the years she was pursuing her PhD or shortly thereafter.