“When I went to school in kindergarten, the kindergarten teacher was sensitive to the fact that there was just one Black family in the elementary school... she knew that I was talented and used my talent as a way of showing the other children that I was very special.”
— Ruth Ashley
Ruth Patricia Coleman Ashley Ed.D. (1929-2003) was born to music loving parents and described her childhood neighborhood as “a very comfortable neighborhood with relatives all around, besides the other Black children in the neighborhood, we had many Italian and Irish also [in] this neighborhood.” Despite living in a diverse area, in 1946 Ruth was the only black member of the graduating class from Milton High School. Music was one of her main exploits since childhood, being taught piano and voice at an early age by both her mother and private tutors.
Ashley, a soprano, enrolled in the Music Education program at Lowell State College in 1948, where she was one of a class of twelve first-year students in the department. She was involved in student government throughout her education at Lowell State, serving as class secretary all four years. She also sang in various musical groups.
After graduating from Lowell State in 1952, she married Louis Evans Ashley in 1953. She was an educator in the public schools of Easton, MA for 17 years beginning the year of her marriage.
Ashley started teaching music education at Lowell State in 1969, rising to the position of Chairperson of the Department of Music Education at the by-then merged University of Lowell in 1987. She taught several courses throughout her career including voice, music methods, chorus, and music education. Outside of University of Lowell, Ashley continued professional vocal performances, and was the directing the Handbell Choir at St. Mark's Congregational Church in Roxbury. She was also involved in various Music Education professional organizations.
Ashley was one of the only a few black students in the schools she attended and but one of few black educators early in her career. She remembered fondly a teacher from elementary school who made sure to treat her with respect and value... “when I went to school in kindergarten, the kindergarten teacher was sensitive to the fact that there was just one Black family in the elementary school, which was my brother and my sister and myself. And so she knew that I was talented and used my talent as a way of showing the other children that I was very special...” This early encouragement served her well as she rose to leadership positions, first as a student government leader and later as a teacher, professor, and advisor. At a time when many black children were treated as less than, she was allowed to shine and learned her value early, enabling her to have the confidence to carry that forward throughout her life.
In addition to her passion for music, Ruth Ashley was also an avid tennis player who attend tournaments throughout the United States and Europe. She retired from the University of Lowell in 1990 and died in 2003 at age 73 in Boston, Massachusetts.