The Ruth Storm Collection consists of eighteen 16mm films shot by New York City lesbian schoolteacher Ruth Storm (1888-1981) between the mid-1930s and 1964. The collection as a whole was shot primarily in down east Maine and Greater New York. Reels1-3 capture the social life Storm and her friends and lovers enjoyed in Corea, Maine, and environs, and represent an extremely rare picture of lesbian social life during the period. Friends shown in the footage include writers Miriam Colwell and Chenoweth Hall who met, fell in love, and became life partners during the filming; Boston Lens Lady Louise Young who grew up in Corea; and painter Marsden Hartley, whom Louise chauffeured during the time when he painted some of his greatest works. Storm’s circle also included Berenice Abbott, May Sarton, John Marin, Jean Oser, Paul Strand, and other progressive artists and voices of the time. Reels 4-7 capture Storm’s New York, including the 1939 and 1964World’s Fairs and several of the highways and bridges that her contemporary Robert Moses (also 1888-1981) built and Storm traveled as she drove to work at Evander Childs High School and visited friends, lovers, and family upstate. Reel 6 also captures a bird’s eye view of the 1937 Chinatown Boycott March and as well as waterfront shots that suggest it may have been shot at the time Berenice Abbott captured NY’s frozen waterfront. Reel 17, titled “Smokies,” captures a vacation trip to Appalachia.
Storm had a very gifted eye. Her reels are beautifully shot and composed. In addition, it is clear that she was engaged in an effort to capture vignettes from the life she and her friends created for themselves against many obstacles. Reel 1, for example, shows Ruth herself passing a book of poetry to her friend Mabel Griffin, something research has revealed was an event from her own romantic life. Reel 2 captures events related to the purchase and construction of the Maine property she shared initially with Mabel and Chennie and later with her last partner Almeda Benoit. (The dowsing segment is classic.) The Maine footage also shows the painter Marsden Hartley, whom Storm’s friend Louise Young used to drive along the coast. When a vista captured his attention, he would ask Louise to stop, gaze at a view until he had his fill, and then ask her to drive him back to his studio where he would paint the impression left on his mind. There are also wonderful portraits of writers Miriam Colwell (1917-2014) and Chenoweth Hall (1908-1999) who fell in love during this time and remained partners until Chennie’s death. Occasionally we also glimpse an aspect of lesbian life during that period that is rarely considered: the presence of mothers.