Profile: Ruth Clement Bond (1904-2005)

Ruth Clement Bond was an African-American educator, civic leader, and quilt designer.

Early life

Ruth Elizabeth Clement was born in Louisville, Kentucky on 22 May 1904, to George Clinton Clement, a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and Emma Clarissa Williams Clement. She was the fourth of seven children.

She attended Livingstone College (of which both her parents were graduates), but earned both her bachelors’ and masters’ degrees in English from Northwestern University. From 1930 to 1932, she was chair of the English department at Kentucky State College.

Career and family

In 1931, she married Dr. J. Max Bond Sr., and they moved to Los Angeles shortly after; he attended the University of Southern California (receiving his doctorate in sociology in 1936). Together, they had three children: historian Jane Bond Howard, architect J. Max Bond Jr., and anthropologist George Clement Bond. Their nephew was Julian Bond, organizer of the SNCC.

From 1934–1938, J. Max Bond Sr. served as the Director of Negro Personnel and Education with the Tennessee Valley Authority. During this time, Ruth worked with a home beautification project to decorate the homes of Black construction workers working to build the Wheeler Dam in  Alabama. She designed a series of striking patterns for art quilts that were then made by the wives of the workers. Though this was her first and only foray into quilting, her striking modern patterns are remembered as a significant innovation in quilt art, helping move quilt design “from the practical to the artistic realm.” They departed from the floral and geometric patterns common in quilt design, depicting silhouettes of Black workers, in a “jagged yet elegant” style reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s paper cutouts and Aaron Douglas’s paintings. The first quilt was called “Black Power”. In Ruth’s own words: “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.” Altogether, they designed and constructed six quilts, known as the “T.V.A. quilts”, of which three are remaining; they have been exhibited at the Museum of Arts and Design and the Michigan State University Museum, among others.

In 1944, Max accepted a role with the United States Department of State, and the Bonds travelled to Haiti, where Ruth served on the faculty of L’Ecole Normale de Martissant. In 1950, they were posted to Liberia, where Max would serve as the president of the University of Liberia, and Ruth headed the University’s English department. In the 1950s and early 1960s, they were posted to Afghanistan, Tunisia, Sierra Leone, and Nyasaland.

Later life

Following Max’s retirement in 1966, the Bonds returned to the United States and took up residence in Washington, D.C., where they both became involved with community issues. During the 1960s, Ruth served as the president of the African-American Women’s Association. In 1978, she worked with a fact-finding mission led by the National Council of Negro Women to study the role of women in Senegal, Togo, and the Ivory Coast. Both the Bonds were involved with the Africa-America Institute, founded by Max’s brother Horace Mann Bond. In D.C., Ruth was on the boards of the Boys and Girls Club of Washington, the YMCA, and the Red Cross, and was an active member of the Foreign Service Women’s Association.

Ruth died on 24 October 2005, at the age of 101.

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