Ruth Bowie had grown up as a slave during the Civil War. Even after gaining her freedom, she had remained with a former owners until she married Charles Bowie in 1880.
By the turn of the of century, the Bowies were listed as living in log home along Lewistown Pike in Lewistown, which is where they would call home for their rest of their lives. They had had four children together, but none of them lived to adulthood and then Ruth had to deal with the loss of her husband in 1920.
The Frederick News was reporting that Ruth was over 100 in 1946. The newspaper ran a short article noting that Ruth’s doctor had decided that she was too old to continue living alone. Her sight and hearing were still considered normal, but she had hurt her hip shortly after she had turned 100 a year earlier. He doctor wasn’t sure that she could continue caring for herself.
“The first hundred years aren’t the hardest. It’s after the first hundred years that things begin to get tough,” she told the newspaper.
The Frederick Emergency Hospital, which is now the Montevue Assisted Living Center, became Ruth’s new home. She became a fixture there sitting in her low broad-armed chair and relating her quickly fading memories to her friends who would come to visit her.
“For a woman who has had only one day’s schooling in her life, she is remarkably discriminating in her choice of words. There was almost a wink in her smile when she related that she had not gone back to school after her teacher had whipped her on the first day because she was so ‘full of devilishness,’” Mehl wrote.
When her friends visited, they would often bring her treats of chicken, sugar cakes and peppermint candies, which were Ruth’s favorite foods.
“I like peppermint candy best,” Ruth told the Sun Magazine.
According to Diane Grove, administrator at Montevue Assisted Living Center, Ruth was discharged from the emergency hospital on May 22, 1955, at the age of 107.
When Ruth died later that year on November 23, she was the oldest resident of Frederick County. She had also been readmitted to Montevue because of her deteriorating health. The Rev. Charles Corbett officiated at her funeral when she was buried at Creagerstown Lutheran Church Cemetery.
“Every life is important and every story has its place in history but it’s what you do with that life that’s important,” said Dwight Palmer, president of the Frederick County NAACP.
Though Bowie was not a civil rights icon, she represented the goals of the civil rights movement. She had risen from slavery to make a life for herself. She was well loved in the community by people of all colors. Despite the fact that she had no family to care for her, friends had visited Ruth frequently during her time at Montevue. Also, at a time when segregation still existed, Ruth’s pallbearers were all white men who considered themselves her friends.