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Ruth C. Bond, 101; Longtime Educator Designed TVA Quilts

November 14, 2005|Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb | Washington Post

Ruth Clement Bond, a well-traveled educator whose quilt designs in the mid-1930s made quilts a medium of expression, died of cardiopulmonary arrest Oct. 24 at her home in New York City. She was 101.

Bond did not know how to quilt when she began designing patterns for a group of women whose husbands were hired to work on the Wheeler Dam in Alabama for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

While her husband supervised the training of the African American construction workers from 1934 to 1938, Bond organized the wives through a "home beautification" program she began. She gave the women the cutout fabric and selected the colors for the quilts.

"Our first quilt we called 'Black Power,' " she said in an oral history for the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide.

"That was a pun, of course, TVA being about power. The first quilt showed a bolt of lightning signifying power, held in the hand of a black worker."

She said some people believe this was the origin of the term "black power."

"The only thing I was trying to say was that things were opening up for the blacks in the South," Bond said.

The TVA quilts, as they are called, have been documented in books, including "Soft Covers for Hard Times: Quiltmaking & the Great Depression" (1990) by Merikay Waldvogel. They also were displayed at the American Craft Museum's exhibit in 1994, "Revivals! Diverse Traditions, 1920-1945: The History of 20th Century American Crafts," and in 2004 at "Art Quilts From the Collection of the Museum of Arts and Design."

Bond was featured in the book "Women Designers in the USA 1900 to 2000: Diversity and Difference" (2001), edited by Pat Kirkham.

Ruth Elisabeth Clement was born in Louisville, the daughter of a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She graduated from Northwestern University in Chicago and received a master's degree in English literature in 1926.

She taught English literature, Latin and French at Kentucky State College in Franklin, Ky., until the lure of city life drew her back to Louisville, where she taught high school.

In 1931, she married J. Max Bond and moved shortly thereafter to Los Angeles. During the mid-1930s, she accompanied him to Alabama while he worked for the director of training for black workers at the TVA.

When her husband became dean of Dillard University in New Orleans in 1938, she focused on raising their children. She became involved in civic work in New Orleans and later in Tuskegee, Ala., when her husband worked at the university there.

From 1944 to 1947, while living in Haiti, where her husband worked for the State Department, Bond taught English in a secondary school and founded an orphanage with the help of several other American women.

She then taught French at Atlanta University.

From 1950 to 1954, she was chairman of the English Department at the University of Liberia.

As a Foreign Service spouse, she lived in Afghanistan, Tunisia and Sierra Leone and worked with women and charitable organizations. In Malawi, she taught English at Bundu College in Blantyre.

Her husband died in 1991.

Survivors include three children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

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