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Ruth Sheldon Play (program, 1924)
*Ruth Shelton was born on this date in 1872. She was a Black writer and playwright.
Ruth Gaines-Shelton was from Glasgow, Missouri; she was the daughter of AME Church minister the Reverend George W. Gaines and his wife, Elizabeth Gaines. Her mother died when she was young, and she helped her father with church work at Old Bethel AME Church on Dearborn Street in Chicago. In 1895 she graduated from Wilberforce University.
She then taught school in Montgomery, Missouri, until she married William Obern Shelton in 1898. She continued to write plays while raising her three children. Her work was significant because it documented the creative activities of Black women within their own communities during an era when most other avenues of opportunity were closed to them. Sheldon was a grandmother when she won $40 for her play The Church Fight, published in Crisis in May 1926.
This was a comedy, poking fun at the internal squabbles that parishioners engage in when not preoccupied with spiritual matters or social action. Shelton wrote many other plays, but her presumably unpublished manuscripts have not survived. Some of her other plays were Aunt Hagar's Children, The Church Mouse, Gena, The Lost Child, Lord Earlington's Broken Vow, Mr. Church, and Parson Dewdrop's Bride. Gaines-Shelton died in 1938.