CULPEPER — Fredericksburg native Ruth Dandridge Crenshaw Harris (1910-2002), an elegant woman of tall stature, lost her right arm in a horrible vehicular accident as a teenager.
But through learning to proficiently use her left arm, and with a heart abundant through church to care for community, she raised more than 50 foster children as a wife and mother bringing up a family in Radiant in Madison County.
Her remarkable human story is the topic of a new virtual exhibit, “Woman of Faith & Action: Loving Mother to Many” at carver4cm.org. It is the fourth installment in curator Terry Miller’s multi-month curated show, “When Women Use Their Power.”
“How many arms does it take to raise a child? To hug a child? To love a child? To be loved?” is the theme Miller wove through the latest installment about Harris, born in 1910 the only child of a single mother. She was raised in the Charles Street household of her grandmother, Sallie Rollins, in downtown Fredericksburg.
Throughout the historic Black neighborhood were many relatives, most of whom were members of the old site of Shiloh Baptist Church on Sophia Street.
After losing her arm, the attractive young woman continued to rehabilitate herself, became a wife in 1938, relocated to Madison and, over the years, fostered dozens of children in partnership with DSS. They included two fatherless young men from New York she took in through the friend of an aunt and who went on to graduate from George Washington Carver High School in Rapidan.
Harris lived on three acres in beautiful Radiant.
“Two walnut trees were in the backyard; fruit trees lined the far backyard; you could smell the sweetness of honeysuckle on a warm afternoon. Wild blackberries were gathered for jam. The vegetable garden provided enough food for the entire household during the winter. It was time to continue to share her bounty,” according to the exhibit.
Where did Harris glean the ability to love other people’s children unconditionally?
“Perhaps from her not knowing her own father; by being raised by her grandmother because her mother was away working; not wanting other children to feel unwanted or that they were alone in this world,” Miller states in the virtual exhibit.
Each of the women in the Carver Museum Power series has vital lessons for contemporary times, said Dr. Hortense Hinton-Jackson, president of the Carver 4-County Museum and vice chairwoman of the History Committee for the George Washington Carver Regional High School Alumni Association.
“Mrs. Harris’ experiences are a reminder that life is less about what happens to you, and more about what you actually do with the life you have been given. Our country is in need of more loving, safe homes willing to care for children of all ages who suddenly find themselves alone or who need a change of environment to give themselves a better chance to succeed,” she said.
The roles of earnest faith and service to one’s church are too often discounted, Miller said.
“Mrs. Harris was rooted in an activist, progressive church in her youth. She took those lessons and her inner strength of character with her to Madison,” she said.
Harris continued to grow in faith and service as an active member of Locust Grove Baptist Church for 66 years and was an Eastern Star, part of Women’s Auxiliary of Wayland Blue Ridge Baptist Association, and a Madison Planning Commission member.
Among it all, and perhaps most importantly, Harris was full-time mother to children who needed nurturing, patient understanding, and unconditional love.
The Carver 4-County Museum is now open by appointment 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Now on display at the museum, for the last time, is Miller’s exhibit on voting.
In August, in the lobby, will be an exhibit of the late Ruby Harrison Beck, part of the “When Women Use Their Power” series. A permanent installation will be place in late August of “Origins,” which opened in 2019 as the museum’s first.
Finally, in this time when voting rights are at risk, according to a museum release, is a traveling exhibit about the first Black women in Culpeper who registered to vote after passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Want to schedule the traveling exhibit for a church or organization or schedule an appointment to visit the museum in person? Contact email@example.com.