Ruth May Fox (1853-1958), third president of the Young Ladies' Mutual Improvement Association, served from 1929 to 1937.
From the Utah State Historical Society Collection.
Bibliography by Linda Thatcher
Ruth May Fox (1853-1958) devoted many years to the Young Ladies' Mutual Improvement Association (YWMIA; in 1977 young women), serving as president from 1929 to 1937, following her tenure as first counselor to President Martha Horne Tingey from 1905 to 1929. Vibrant and spirited, Ruth May Fox was a woman of great strength and refined features. A poet and songwriter, she wrote the text to "Carry On," a hymn traditionally associated with the Mutual Improvement Association; it was introduced and featured at that association's June conference in 1930. She was an advocate of woman suffrage and education, evidenced in part by her sponsorship of the Traveling Library Program and her focus on self-education.
Ruth May Fox was born November 16, 1853, in Westbury, Wiltshire, England, the daughter of Mary Ann Harding and James May. Five months later, her parents joined the LDS Church. After her mother's death in 1855, her father was called to be a traveling elder for the Church, causing her to live with various LDS families and relatives until she was approximately eight years old, when her father took her to Yorkshire, where he was employed. Around 1865 he emigrated to America, where Ruth joined him a few months later, and soon after, he remarried. The family lived in the Philadelphia area for two years, during which time she worked in factories to earn enough money to help finance their journey to Utah.
In July 1867 the Mays started for Utah, first traveling to North Platte, Nebraska. After securing supplies for their journey, they had only enough money to buy one yoke of cattle, so they shared a wagon with another family and walked most of the way to Utah.
Ruth worked in the Deseret (Salt Lake City) and Ogden Woolen Mills, where her father was a carder, and used her earnings to help purchase the family home. She then attended John Morgan's College in Salt Lake City for four months, which ended her formal education. When her father returned to Salt Lake City and started his own mill, she helped him operate the heavy equipment.
On May 8, 1873, when she was nineteen and he was twenty, she married Jesse Williams Fox, Jr.; they were blessed with twelve children. Ruth and Jesse prospered in the early years of their marriage, but met financial difficulties around 1888. Soon after, Jesse took a second wife, without any forewarning to Ruth. (wrong, she knew of his intention to marry, just not the day of the wedding. ~s) He eventually lost his business, accumulated large debts, and lost the family home. The two families lived separately, and as Jesse lived with the other household, (wrong again, the second wife was a secret, Jesse spent most of his time in the city near Ruth and his weekends on the farm with Rosemary, when possible. ~s) Ruth was largely left to her own resources to survive. (as were both wives and Jesse. ~s) In 1900 she and her children ran the Saint Omer Boarding House to supplement their income; in 1914 she began work as a typist for the YWMIA. She lived with her children from 1914 until her death in 1958, resuming housekeeping only to nurse her husband through illnesses in 1921 and from 1927 until his death in 1928.
Among Ruth May Fox's lifelong beliefs was a strong commitment to suffrage for women. She was active in the Utah Woman Suffrage Association and the Republican party and helped draft the suffrage clause of the Utah Constitution. She served as president of the Utah Woman's Press Club, treasurer of the Utah Woman Suffrage Association, chairman of the Salt Lake County Second Precinct Ladies' Republican Club, and board member of the Deseret Agricultural and Manufacturing Society and of Traveler's Aid Society. She died on April 12, 1958, in Salt Lake City at the age of 104
A wonderful article about her life, by Janet Peterson, appeared in the August 2004 Ensign.