Thompson, Ruth (1887–1970)

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Thompson, Ruth (1887–1970)

American judge and Republican congressional representative. Born on September 15, 1887, in Whitehall,Michigan; died on April 5, 1970, in Allegan County, Michigan; graduated from Muskegon Business College, 1905; studied law in night school.

Admitted to the bar of Michigan (1924); elected judge of Muskegon County Probate Court (1925–37); served as a representative, Michigan House of Representatives (1939–41); started private law practice in Michigan (1946); served as representative from Michigan's 9th District, 82nd through 84th Congresses (1951–57); became the first woman to sit on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

Born in 1887 in Whitehall, Michigan, Ruth Thompson served in the House of Representatives for six years. She attended public schools in Muskegon County before entering Muskegon Business College to prepare for a career as a court reporter. Thompson graduated in 1905 and went to work as a registrar for the Muskegon County Probate Court, where she would remain for 18 years. In 1918, she began taking law classes at night, and passed the Michigan bar examination

in 1924, at age 37. She was then elected county probate judge, a post she held until 1937. At that time she ran successfully on a Republican ticket for the Michigan state legislature.

Thompson served in the legislature for two years before moving to Washington, D.C., for successive positions as an attorney in the Civil Service Commission, the Social Security Board, and the Department of Labor. She worked in the War Department during World War II; after the war, this led to 14 months in Frankfurt, Germany, working for the Adjutant General's office. From Germany, she was assigned to work in Copenhagen, Denmark, after which she returned to Michigan and opened a private law practice in 1946. In 1950, she ran as a Republican for the U.S. House of Representatives from Michigan's 9th District. That November, Thompson defeated two male candidates to become the first woman elected to Congress from Michigan, and began her first term in January 1951.

One of her first acts was to sign a petition seeking removal of Secretary of State Dean Acheson, whose foreign policy was criticized by many Republicans as insufficiently aggressive to the Communist threat in Asia. In her six years in Congress, Thompson served on the House Judiciary Committee, the first woman to do so, as well as on the Joint Committee on Immigration and Nationality Policy. On national issues, she consistently voted with conservative Republicans against the Truman administration, opposing domestic social programs and executive powers while supporting aid to non-Communist nations. In her home district, Thompson was active in many civic and professional organizations, including the prison commission, the State Bar Association, and the Governor's Advisory Board. After serving three terms, she lost the nomination for a fourth term due to delays and problems with a U.S. Air Force base being built in her district, and retired to Whitehall just before her 70th birthday in 1957. In failing health, Thompson entered the Plainwell Sanitorium in Allegan County, where she died in April 1970.


Current Biography 1951. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1951.

Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives. Women in Congress, 1917–1990. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California

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Thompson, Ruth (1887–1970)

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