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Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams

Reverend Dr. Ruth “Teena” Williams was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on October 4, 1927. Williams attended public schools in New Orleans, and after graduating from high school, she enrolled in Xavier University, earning her A.B. degree in 1947. She then attended St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, earning her master’s of science in medical social work in 1950.

After earning her master’s degree, Williams moved to Chicago and was hired by Cook County Hospital as a social worker in 1950. In 1955, she was hired by the city of Chicago to work as a social worker with welfare recipients, and in 1957 she went to work for the Veterans Administration. In 1959, Williams joined in the family business, Unity Funeral Parlors, and went back to school to become a licensed funeral director and in 1964 she became an embalmer. Williams served as president and chairman of the board of Unity Funeral Parlors, as well as serving as president of Unity Limousine Services.

Wanting to help people, Williams enrolled in the Chicago Theological Seminary in 1977, and she earned her master’s of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees in 1980. Since then, she also earned a certificate in Anglican studies from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and her Ph.D. from the Chicago Theological Seminary at the age of eighty. She served as a part-time priest at St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church in Chicago.

Williams was involved with numerous civic organizations, including The Links, Inc., the women’s board of the Field Museum and the Chicago Network. She had numerous awards bestowed upon her over the years, including the Spirit of Love award from the Little City Foundation and special recognition from the Links.

Williams was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 26, 2004.

Williams passed away on June 6, 2011.

Accession Number

A2004.147

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/26/2004 |and| 9/15/2004

Last Name

Williams

Middle Name

Teena

Schools

Valena C. Jones Elementary School

McDonogh No. 35 Senior High School

Xavier University of Louisiana

Saint Louis University

Worsham College of Mortuary Science

Chicago Theological Seminary

Seabury-Western Theological Seminary

Institute for Spiritual Leadership

First Name

Ruth

Birth City, State, Country

New Orleans

HM ID

WIL17

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Thank You, God.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

10/4/1927

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Catfish (Fried), Beans (Red), Rice

Death Date

6/6/2011

Short Description

Funeral director and priest Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams (1927 - 2011 ) was president and chairman of the board of Unity Funeral Parlors and president of Unity Limousine Services. She also served as a priest at St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church in Chicago. Williams passed away on June 6, 2011.

Employment

Cook County Hospital

City of Chicago

United States Department of Veterans Affairs

Unity Funeral Parlors

Unity Limousine Services

St. Edmund's Episcopal Church

Unity Mutual Life Insurance

St. James Episcopal Cathedral

St. Margaret of Scotland

Favorite Color

Blue, White

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers stories about her mother's childhood in Pass Christian, Mississippi

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams talks about her father's family in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams explains how her parents' relationship began

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams lists her siblings, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams lists her siblings, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood in New Orleans, Louisiana, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood in New Orleans, Louisiana, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers Creole culture in early twentieth- century New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her family tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 in New Orleans, Lousiana

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes the economic situation of Creole families during her childhood in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls Creole Mardi Gras traditions

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams talks about the evolution of Creole identity, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams talks about the evolution of Creole identity, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams explains how voodoo was incorporated into Creole Roman Catholic religious practice

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers Catholic kindergarten at Corpus Christi Church in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls Valena C. Jones Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her family and school life during childhood

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers extracurricular activities at McDonogh No. 35 Senior High School in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls her time at McDonogh No. 35 Senior High School in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers graduating at age nineteen from Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls experiencing class discrimination at Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers her ambivalence upon graduating from college in 1947

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls initial challenges at St. Louis University School of Social Work in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls her final year at St. Louis University School of Social Work in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her social work career in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her social work career in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers her transition to a funerary service career

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers her late husband's work with Constant C. Dejoie, Sr. at Unity Mutual Life Insurance Company

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls convincing her husband that women can lead, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls convincing her husband that women can lead, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams talks about experiencing gender discrimination when applying to Chicago Theological Seminary

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls studying for master's and doctoral degrees at Chicago Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers experiences at Chicago Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams talks about her conversion to the Episcopal Church

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams talks about founding a widows' support group, LARUTH

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams explains widows' experience of isolation

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes the necessity of ministers trained in funerary service

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams talks about her current doctoral studies at Chicago Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers her call to ordination at her mothers' deathbed in 1987

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls her husbands' death during her journey to ordination

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers her ordination as an Episcopal priest in 1987

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls experiencing gender, age, and racial discrimination early in her career as an Episcopal priest

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams reflects upon discrimination in the Episcopal Church

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams reflects upon her life

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams narrates her photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams narrates her photographs, pt. 3

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

10$2

DATitle
Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls Creole Mardi Gras traditions
Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her social work career in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2
Transcript
Now, do you remember Mardi Gras and that sort of thing when you were (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Oh, yes. Mardi Gras was the big thing (laughter). So important that when I first left home, and I only knew predominantly Roman Catholics, you know. When I first left home, I--it just never occurred to me that there were people who did not know about Mardi Gras. As far as I knew Mardi Gras was celebrated all over the world. Now, mind you, I'm an adult now. And I just never thought about it that way. And so I did not go to work for Mardi Gras, nor did I report in, 'cause I didn't think I had to. I thought everybody took off for Mardi Gras (laughter). And I had the rude awakening that everybody did not know about Mardi Gras, and so--but it was a big day for us, very big day because we had lived through Lent and--I mean we're about to go through Lent. So it starts really, you start celebrating at Christmastime. Everything is very holy, getting ready for the birth of Christ, and then for the New Year, and then right after that, you know Lent is going to come soon. And so you have dances and you have cotillions and you have--so when we would call ourselves poor, but that didn't stop you from being in the cotillion and having a beautiful evening gown and all of the trappings that go with it. So you, you participated in all of these things, and, and that was a big event. And the day of Mardi Gras, everybody got up early. My mother [Louise Cassimere Prudeaux] made a huge, huge, maybe two pots of red beans and rice, and potato salad. These are foods that you can put in the refrigerator and take out. And even before the refrigerator, I can remember the icebox, where you had things in the icebox. And then you can take 'em out and put 'em on the stove. But everything was freshly cooked, but to preserve it so you would not have any spoilage, and you'd have food all day long and not run out. Now, I can't imagine that today. But I can remember as late as my leaving, you know, to go away to graduate school [St. Louis University School of Social Work, St. Louis, Missouri], that my mother never ran out of food, and she would have food--and people could stop in all day long during Mardi Gras. And, but it was mostly like red beans and rice, and sturdy food. And people enjoyed that and looked forward to it, you know. And everybody had a costume of some form or fashion. We didn't buy costumes at the store. You made 'em at home. And you tried to be imaginative. Now, I don't remember us ever being Indians [Native Americans]. There was a group in other areas that were [Mardi Gras] Indians. That was in the area--not the Creole area. The Creoles, to my knowledge, were not Indians. Now, that's another story.$$The black folks would (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Right, they would dress like Indians.$$The Wild Tchoupitoulas and--$$Right, right.$$Okay.$$And then they had the [Krewe of] Zulu--I don't know when the Zulu parade started, but the Creoles never participated in that either until late years when they started participating.$I didn't know much about narcotic addiction during that period. Before I left there, I learned about it, and I learned about it more from the maternity section where the women, the--that was--and I didn't work on that ward, and I was glad that I didn't have that assignment, 'cause I was staunchly Roman Catholic still, and the discussions of abortion, which was illegal, but all of that was coming up, you know. So I was glad that I didn't have to have that, but as our coworkers, as we talked and shared stories, in the casework meetings, drug addiction came up. And so I learned more about drug addiction through that, not through users, but through babies who got it from their mothers, you know. So that was a very wonderful experience in both the inpatient--that was one of my first efforts, first time being recognized. A story was done in the [Chicago] Sun-Times, I believe it was. I believe that was the paper, and--showing me in one of the wards as--me and my supervisor talking with a patient at the bedside and showing medical workers not just in what people usually think of as a social worker, but in the professional part of social work. That was a nice story. And then another time, I was invited to participate in a radio panel discussing social work and what it meant and the involvement of it. And I was very proud of my, my field then. And I left Cook County Hospital [John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, Chicago, Illinois] and went, I worked for one year as a consultant for the City [of Chicago, Illinois] during the time when they had the city welfare department separate from the state welfare [department]. Then they merged, and I left the system and went to the Veterans Administration. And I worked in the V.A. West Side [Medical Center; Jesse Brown Veterans Administration Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois] in the outpatient department. But my assignment was to work with the quadriplegics and paraplegics of World War II [WWII]. And I had inherited that caseload of about four hundred. And I had only two African Americans in that caseload. All the rest were Caucasians. Many of them incurred their injury not in battle, but rather in--it might have been swimming in London [England] or somewhere and injured their head or something that sort, accidents, but while in service. And they were given everything that they needed, special housing, special automobiles, special everything, you know. That was an interesting experience, but it never measured with County Hospital experience. That was the most wonderful experience in my professional life, most wonderful experience. I really had a sense of helping people, although sometimes it was discouraging 'cause you'd have repeat situations and you--because you were not ongoing. It was while you were in the hospital--while the person was in the hospital or being transferred. Your ongoing relationship was when it was in the clinic, where you had an ongoing relationship.