Women of Ward 6

A Well-Read Woman: The Life, Loves, and Legacy of Ruth Rappaport by Kate Stewart, published by Little A, New York

November’s Woman of Ward 6 is Ruth Rappaport (1923-2010), a Capitol Hill resident who had a remarkable life and career as a librarian. Rapport’s life spanned her childhood in Germany where she was a witness to the devastation of Kristallnacht and a Leipzig book burning, to her death in 2010 after retiring from the Library of Congress in the early 1990s.

The Ward 6 Democrats are recognizing and honoring Ward 6 women who have made significant contributions to better our community as a lead-up to the 2020 anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

Rappaport escaped Nazi Germany when she was 15 by running away from her parents in Switzerland as they were preparing to return to Germany. She obtained an American visa and went to live with her uncle, Carl Rubinstein, in Seattle. She worked as an editor of Seattle’s Jewish Transcript, a press photographer for Acme News, and as photo archivist for the Foreign Press Office for the fledgling state of Israel.  She managed libraries for the U.S. Air Force in Okinawa and for the U.S. Navy and Army in Saigon.

In 1963, she began managing the military libraries in Saigon for the U.S. Navy, agreeing to do so only if there would be no censorship. While in Vietnam, she supervised the library system as it grew from a few books to 39 branch libraries and 117 field collections.

In 1970 she quit and began working for the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill. She bought a red brick house on Third St., SE, in Ward 6, which was near the library.

Her first job at the LOC was cataloging the FBI’s collection of confiscated books deemed pornographic or erotic.

Rappaport spent a lifetime fighting censorship and supporting human rights.  She was one of the organizers behind the Library of Congress Professional Guild, an effort undertaken when workers felt unfairly burdened by management quotas for cataloging books.

After Rappaport died in 2010, Kate Stewart, another Capitol Hill resident at the time who also happened to be working at the Library of Congress, went to Rappaport’s estate sale. She became fascinated by Rappaport’s life and began researching the many papers Rappaport had left behind. She spent six years researching and writing a book about Rappaport: “A Well-Read Woman: The Life, Loves, and Legacy of Ruth Rappaport.” The book, which was published in May of 2019, is available in local bookstores and on-line. The “loves” in the sub-title refer to details from Rappaport’s journal – which also tells a larger story of gender inequality in a world where the double standard was the standard.

“She was like a character from a novel,” Stewart said. “She has a strong personality. I found the process of researching her was changing my life. It took me off on an adventure.”

Rappaport always had to advocate for herself, Stewart said. She got her first job as a journalist in Seattle because the men were all off to war. But she was sexually harassed and suffered through inappropriate behavior from men throughout her long career as a librarian. She complained, but nothing was done. Stewart said.

Rappaport continued to be active in the community after she retired from the Library of Congress. She became a founding member of Capitol Hill Village, an organization created to help seniors age in place, and of Hill Havurah on Capitol Hill. There is a memorial bench for her located in Congressional Cemetery. Most of her papers are held at the United States Holocaust Memoriam Museum.

Everyone Home DC (formerly Capitol Hill Group Ministry) awards the Ruth Rappaport Wisdom Award annually to recognize an individual who “has displayed remarkable warmth, wisdom, and commitment to the Capitol Hill Community.”

About the initiative: The Women of Ward 6 Initiative is a non-partisan recognition of Ward 6’s women. The initiative, in partnership with the National Woman’s Party, Capitol Hill Restoration Society and the Hill Rag will culminate in the 2020 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.