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Social Activists and Politicians

Ruth Holland Scott (b. 1934)

Community activist and educator. The first African American woman to serve both as a member and as president of the Rochester City Council.

An illustration of Ruth Holland Scott
Illustrated by Michael Osadciw

In the title of her memoir, The Circles God Draws, Ruth Holland Scott alludes to the unexpected circumstances, events, and encounters that lead us to places we could never imagine. Traveling these paths of darkness and light, Scott somehow found her way to Rochester, and we are all the better for it.

Born in 1934 in Albion, Michigan, Ruth Elaine Holland did not have it easy growing up. Her parents, Edna and Robert Holland, worked several jobs just to make ends meet. Ruth began working and saving for college at age 13.

Ruth attended segregated schools with fewer educators and resources for children of color, including libraries that refused to lend books to her. Nevertheless, Ruth found creative ways to study and excel in school. In her senior year, Scott won a scholarship at a statewide debate team competition. This gave her access to an education at Albion College.

“I didn’t feel limited. I feel as if there are infinite opportunities and possibilities.”

—Ruth Holland Scott

Scott graduated from Albion College in 1956 with cum laude honors, majoring in sociology and education. She later achieved a graduate degree in education at Kent State University in Ohio.

Again confronted with segregation and discriminatory hiring practices from Albion to Chicago, Scott finally secured her first teaching position at a junior high school in Cleveland. There she met her husband, Bill, a music teacher.

Mutual career interests in education brought the couple to Rochester in 1969. Scott went on to join the Rochester City School District, becoming the dean of women at Madison High School.

Scott’s community efforts in Rochester began when she became the head of the 19th Ward Community Association. This is one of the oldest neighborhood associations in the country, established to fight racist real estate practices and cultivate diversity in the area. Scott grew passionate for the cause and became the association president. This, along with her volunteer work for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign, fueled her passion for politics.

In 1977, Scott became the first African American woman to win a seat on the Rochester City Council, and likewise the first Black president of the council in 1986. She championed cultural diversity, education for all, low-income housing development, neighborhood revitalization, minority and women entrepreneurship, and many other initiatives vital to the city.

In recognition of her service, Scott received the Distinguished Service Award from the Rochester Chamber of Commerce and the Monroe County Human Relations Council. She retired in 1989 and continued to help individuals and businesses in the community as a consultant.

Scott holds two honorary doctoral degrees from Alfred University and her alma mater, Albion College. She served on the Alfred University board of trustees and the board of directors of the Memorial Art Gallery as well as on the Martin Luther King Commission. In 2005, the New York State Senate presented Scott with a Woman of Distinction citation, another honor that was well deserved.

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