The Sunbonnet Lady

bnntldyA story in the October 24, 1939 edition of the Illinoian-Star led to fame for a 92 year-old Virginia, Illinois resident. Mrs. Anna Ruby sewed over 300 sun bonnets a year and sold them for 30 or 35 cents each. She insisted that the money she earned be deducted from her Illinois Old Age Assistance payments. Her independence and work ethic brought the elderly lady national attention.

During her March 10, 1940 radio show, Kate Smith, the “Songbird of the South,” complemented and commented on Mrs. Ruby. The next day Anna received a letter from Illinois Governor Henry Horner:

“The story of your trade in sun bonnets had just come to my notice, and what a heartening story it is! How charged with wholesome encouragement! To be well, alert, forward-looking and busy at a useful task at ninety-two is surely a splendid achievement.

I count it a privilege for the State of Illinois to assist you in some small measure, and I greatly admire your sturdy spirit of self-help. Please accept my congratulations and best wishes.”

Later in the year, during a tour of the newly remodeled Cass County Courthouse, Mrs. Ruby’s display of sunbonnets in the Office of Old Age Assistance received much attention and she was said to be the belle of the open house.

Her notoriety led to orders for bonnets from all over the country, but due to her age, she could not fill them all. She continued to work, as best she could, through the 1940’s.

Mrs. Ruby, who was blessed with good health for 100 years, passed away at the Massie Nursing home in Virginia, at 8 p. m., October 25, 1950, at the age of 103. She was born in the Monroe district of Cass County on September 13, 1847, the daughter of Miles and Matilda Bridgewater White. Anna was married twice, and both her husbands preceded her in death. There were no children. The “Sunbonnet Lady” was laid to rest in Walnut Ridge Cemetery at Virginia.