Ruth McKenney, 1911-1972
Ruth McKenney, one-time
Akron Beacon Journal reporter, is best known for her best-selling book,
My Sister Eileen. Old-time Akronites, however, remember her for her Industrial
Valley, a book that described the struggle between industrialists and workers
in Akron during the 1930s.
Born in Michawaka, Ind.,
McKenney grew up in East Cleveland, graduating from Shaw High School. At age 14,
while working as a printer's devil, she got her first union card as a member of
the International Typographical Union. From there, she was off to Ohio State University.
She majored in Journalism and worked part time for the Columbus Citizen
and International News Service but she never graduated from college. Instead,
she lined up a job with the Beacon Journal. Actually, it was OSU classmate
Earl Wilson who suggested the plan.
McKenney was a popular writer
at the Beacon Journal. She and Akron just meshed. There was something about
the city and its residents she understood. A Beacon Journal reporter called
it a "deep sympathy for those she considered downtrodden."
The readers loved her and
her stories - and honors followed. In both 1933 and 1934, the Ohio Newspaper Women's
Association (ONWA) called her the best in the state. As one colleague recalled,
"Ruth, whose stories have brought wayward and wandering husbands back to
their wives, saved poor children's dogs from death in the dog pound, and caused
food and dollars to find their way into charity baskets
" was a fine
In 1934, however, she walked
away from the Beacon to join the staff of the Newark Ledger in New
Jersey. But that didn't last long. McKenney was about to move to New York City
and start a new phase of her career.
In New York City, McKenney
worked on her book on the union strife in Akron and sold humorous sketches about
the adventures of her sister Eileen to the New Yorker magazine. In 1938,
those stories were woven into the tremendously popular book, My Sister Eileen.
Subsequently, the book was turned into a Broadway play.
In 1939 Industrial Valley
came out to an outcry from Akron community leaders. Akron evangelist Bill
Denton urged the Chamber of Commerce to file suit in the federal court, saying
the book was full of "profanity, slander and communistic tendencies."
That same year, the book won an honorable mention in the non-fiction category
at the American Writer's Congress.
McKenney's other books came
in quick succession: The McKenney's Carry On (1940); Jake Home (1943);
The Loud Red Patrick (1947); Love Story (1950); Here's England;
a Highly Informal Guide (with husband Richard Branstein) (1951); All About
Eileen (1952); Far, Far From Home (1954) and Mirage (1956).
tremendous professional success, McKenney experienced a personal life
of tragedy. She married Richard Bransten, who wrote under the pen name
Bruce Minton, in 1938. Both became Communists. They were ousted from
the Communist Party in 1946. The Communist newspaper, the Daily Worker,
accused the couple of "conducting a factional struggle against
the line of the party and its national leadership." Just before
"My Sister Eileen" opened on Broadway, Ruth's sister was killed
in an automobile accident. Bransten committed suicide in London in 1965.
McKenney moved back to New
York City after that. She died there on July 27, 1972. She left a son and daughter
and a body of literature and journalism behind.
of the Beacon Journal.