Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon recently promised his seniors that he would find a way for them to have their commencement, despite current school closures. Today, students wear their cap and gown as they cross the stage, and generally wear anything they want underneath. Some schools, girls’ schools in particular, require wearing white, and this was no different for young women 100 years ago.


Clevelander Ruth Ruck (1902-1988) graduated from 8th grade in January, 1916. She wore a white cotton dress, trimmed throughout with lace, pictured here in this photo postcard her family ordered to celebrate the occasion. Her dress is now in the WRHS costume collection. A 1900 etiquette guide wrote, “A pure and neatly made white muslin dress is the most appropriate, and always just the thing for the occasion. White is becoming to all young girls, comparatively inexpensive and always perfect in taste.”


CLICK HERE to watch a video of our Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costume & Textiles, Patty Edmonson as she goes deeper into the history of graduation dresses.


Although we’re not sure where she attended middle school, Ruth graduated from Commerce High School in Ohio City. She lived at 3639 Fulton Road with her parents, two sisters, grandfather, aunt, and two cousins. Her father, George Ruck, sold shoes, which makes one take a closer look at Ruth’s two-tones leather boots in this image. Although not much has turned up about the family, we know that Ruth’s sister, Hazel, died the same year this image was taken. It’s hard to imagine such a loss.


Ruth attended Wittenberg University and Western Reserve College for Women (now CWRU). Ruth loved to hike, and was a leader in the YWCA’s Girl Reserves. After leaving Wittenberg, she worked for the YWCA as recreation and athletic director of their Rocky River camp. Ruth was well-known for skills such as swimming and archery. In 1930 Ruth married Charles Lees. By the 1940 census, the couple had moved to Detroit and Ruth was at home caring for their son.