Ruth Ellen Bains, class of 1943


Ruth Ellen Bains begins Part 1 of her interview by highlighting her family background and her early education in the Lincoln, Rhode Island, public school system. She explains that she only had two colleges to choose from and decided to attend Pembroke College. She briefly describes living in a dormitory and her first impressions of the campus, before detailing the beneficial and copasetic coeducational structure necessitated by World War II.

Bains goes on talk about her participation in Sock and Buskin – a coeducational theatre group, and identifies professors Benjamin Brown, Warren Hastings, George Downing, and Randall Stewart, as particularly influential. She describes listening to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech in the Pembroke cafeteria, electing to pursue the accelerated trimester program instituted at the start of the war, and graduating at 19 for a code-breaking job in Washington, D.C. She momentarily expounds on the parietal rules that applied to Pembroke students and reminisces about the Sophomore Masque, May Day, and Ivy Day. She remarks that her only regret was the lack of career guidance available on campus. Bains continues discussing her job as a code breaker but seems to ask that the recording be turned off because of the sensitive nature of her work.

In Part 2, Bains discusses her life after the war including her job at a publishing house in New York, doing freelance work for them after she had a baby, and her current work in establishing and preserving her husband, Erich Hartmann’s, photograph archive. She concludes the interview by explaining that the only diversity on campus consisted of a Bulgarian refugee, and lauding the diversity on campus today.

See also: Brown Alumni Magazine article Working Until the End and ESOPUS Magazine article Analog Recovery 2: Home Studio

Part 1

Part 2


Recorded on July 30, 2013 in New York, NY
Interviewed by Phyllis Santry class of 1966

Suggested Chicago style citation: Bains, Ruth Ellen. Interview. By Phyllis Santry. Pembroke Center Oral History Project, Brown University. July 30, 2013.


Ruth Ellen Bains was born in Providence, Rhode Island. At 15, she graduated from Pawtucket High School and entered Pembroke College, where she studied English and became heavily involved in Sock and Buskin and the Pembroke Dramatic Society. She was elected to the Rhode Island chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and was on the Dean’s list. Upon her wartime graduation, Ruth moved to Washington, where she was a code breaker for the Office of Strategic Services. She moved to New York following World War II, and there, she met her husband, famed photographer Erich Hartmann, began a family, and worked in publishing and as a freelance writer. When Bains’ husband passed away, she began her extensive efforts as his archivist, continuing to show and publish his various works.