Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Ruth MacLennan Uphaus

Social causes brightly woven into Ruth MacLennan Uphaus' life

ST. PETERSBURG — Whenever older radicals passed through town — usually people who had taken a stand for civil rights, labor or peace causes and paid a price for it — they always had food and lodging waiting for them at Amity House, the middle-class suburban home of Ruth and Willard Uphaus.

The house itself in Lakewood Estates said much about the couple's commitment to social causes. They frequently filled a large atrium with scores of folding chairs for conferences on numerous issues.

Labor leader César Chávez was a guest. So were Myles Horton, a socialist and a major influence on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; NAACP chairman Julian Bond; Vietnam protesters Daniel Ellsberg and the Berrigan brothers.

Ruth Uphaus, a tiny elementary school teacher with bright blue eyes and a squeaky voice, was not as famous as her guests, or her husband. In 1959, in response to a New Hampshire investigation on communism, Willard Uphaus refused a court order to disclose names of guests at his World Fellowship summer camp and spent a year in jail.

"Willard was kind and nice in the way he spoke, but Ruth was feisty," said activist Watson Haynes, who organized for sanitation workers in the 1968 strike as Mrs. Uphaus taught striking workers to read. "She wouldn't back down, and I don't care how many people there were or who you were."

Mrs. Uphaus, who pushed for liberal causes with an air of buoyant optimism, died Tuesday. She was 98.

"Her social activism goes back to the 1930s, with labor unions in Ohio and Connecticut, all kinds of organizations," said University of South Florida historian Ray Arsenault. "She really was a paragon of the social gospel."

The Rev. Todd Sutton, her pastor at Lakeview Presbyterian Church, called Mrs. Uphaus "someone who really, really put her faith into action. She didn't just pray for it, she worked hard for it."

Mrs. Uphaus invariably met the people she wanted to help, no matter how far away in the world. She succeeded Willard, who died in 1983, as the leader of Amity House, which served as headquarters for the Gulf Coast Association for American-Soviet Friendship; and sailed on peace cruises down the Volga River.

In 1985, she represented several organizations at a United Nations women's conference in Nairobi, Kenya. "I went with the single-minded purpose of letting other women know that thousands of other women don't agree with the government's policies," she said on her return.

Born Ruth Allard in Madison, Ohio, Mrs. Uphaus attended Oberlin College and Kent State University before starting a 35-year career teaching elementary school. She lost her teaching job in Willoughby, Ohio, after running unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Farmer-Labor Party.

She moved to St. Petersburg in the early 1960s, and taught at Bay Vista Elementary School until leaving in the 1967 teacher strike.

She was soon caught up in the garbage strike alongside prominent black leaders and several white supporters. "She remained pleased and proud to have participated in (the strike)," said friend and activist Winnie Foster.

Her first husband, Charles MacLennan, a past president of the Greater St. Petersburg Council on Human Relations, died in 1973. Mrs. Uphaus usually got to church on Sundays, where she greeted visitors with an ever-present smile and a tight hug. A hearing loss limited her phone calls in recent years, but she still read constantly, and kept a stack of paperbacks and magazines beside her favorite chair.

Her death marks the loss of an activist who tried to save the environment, end discrimination and promote world peace. "People of that generation saw all of these things connected in a web of social justice," Arsenault said. "It was broader than the civil rights movement or the labor movement. It was a kind of holistic, deep personal commitment.

"It was her life."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]


Ruth MacLennan Uphaus

Born: Sept. 7, 1911.

Died: July 13, 2010.

Survivors: Sister Betty Eyster; numerous nieces and nephews.

Service: To be arranged.

Social causes brightly woven into Ruth MacLennan Uphaus' life 07/17/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 17, 2010 7:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald team up to cool down the Clearwater Jazz Holiday


    A cool breeze swept through Coachman Park Saturday night. Couple of them, actually.

    Kenny Loggins performed at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday on Oct. 21, 2017.
  2. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start


    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  3. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Ryan Callahan spent a lot of time last season rehabilitating his injured hip alongside Steven Stamkos, who was rehabbing a knee after season-ending surgery. During those hours, Callahan noticed two things about Stamkos: his hunger and his excitement to return this season.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy


    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  5. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)


    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102