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Lowell Stories: Women's History

Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis (April 5, 1908 – October 6, 1989)

Image #1: Bette Davis, Los Angeles, California 1935


“Bette Davis’ Lifelong Tie to Lowell Recalled Amid Women’s History Month," by Rebecca Duda, Lowell Sun, March 22, 2021

March is Women’s History Month in the United States. This tradition dates back to 1978 when organizers in Santa Rosa, California, organized Women’s History Week.

They selected the week of March 8 to coincide with International Women’s Day.

In 1980, women’s groups petitioned President Jimmy Carter and requested he issue a Presidential Proclamation declaring the week of March 8 Women’s History Week. He did. In his proclamation he wrote, “From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this Nation. Too often, the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.” The week-long celebration evolved into a month-long celebration.

Lowell has had numerous women throughout its history who have made significant contributions to the city and the nation at large. From Sara Bagley and Lucy Larcom who worked in the city’s textile mills during the 19th century to Edith Nourse Rogers and Niki Tsongas who represented Lowell in U.S. Congress.

Another remarkable woman to come from Lowell is legendary screen actress Bette Davis. Let’s look at Bette Davis as we celebrate Women’s History Month.

Bette Davis was born April 5, 1908, in Lowell to Harlow Morrell Davis and Ruth Augusta. She was born in the family home at 22 Chester St. The house still stands and has a plaque commemorating it as the birthplace of the legendary actress.

Image #2: Bette Davis Grandmother’s Home, 22 Chester Street, Lowell, where legendary Hollywood actress Bette Davis was born. Photo courtesy Rebecca Duda.

Davis’ birth name was Ruth Elizabeth, but everyone called her Betty (later in life she changed the spelling to Bette). Bette Davis spent her first years in Lowell. The family moved to Somerville when she was 2. Her parents separated in 1915 and her mother moved her and her little sister to New York.

Davis became interested in acting while a student at the Cushing Academy. In 1930, Davis moved to Hollywood to try her luck at the movie business. She failed her first screen test, but in 1935 she won her first Oscar for Best Actress in “Dangerous.” She won her second Oscar in 1938, for “Jezebel.” Davis was nominated 10 ten times for an Academy Award. She continued to perform, even though in failing health, until 1989. She died in France on October 6, 1989, at the age of 81. She is buried in Los Angeles, California.


Image #3: Tribute to Batter Davis by Lowell Technological Institute, UMass Lowell, Center for Lowell History, Photograph Collections.

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