Ella A. Giles was born near Madison, Wisconsin, on February 2, 1851. Growing up in the home of a father who was a philanthropist and a mother who fostered Ella’s love of art and literature, she pursued interests in those areas throughout her life. As her A Woman of the Century profile notes, “She early showed musical talent. Her fine voice was carefully cultivated by Hans Balatka. She was quite distinguished as an oratorio and church singer when her health failed and she was compelled to abandon what promised to be a successful career in music.” (320)
Although her dream was not to be, the resilient Ella was determined to make her mark. Turning to literary pursuits, she wrote Bachelor Ben, her first novel, which was published in 1875 by Madison publishers Atwood & Culver and Chicago publishers Janson, McClurg & Co. It was reviewed by numerous periodicals, including Literary World (August 1, 1875) and Saturday Review (September 25, 1875) and sold one thousand volumes in just sixty days. (Los Angeles Herald) The next year, she published Out from the Shadows, which was reviewed by The Independent on June 15, 1876, and by several other periodicals. In 1879, Ella's newest book, Maiden Rachel, appeared on the shelves of bookstores and libraries. Like her earlier work, it was reviewed by The Independent (August 7, 1879), Literary World (July 5, 1879), and other periodicals. Madison readers would have had an opportunity to meet the author, as Ella became a librarian at the Madison Public Library that year. She remained at the library for five years while giving public talks, writing, and publicizing other writers. On May 21, 1882, Ella penned “The West’s Literature” for a Wisconsin newspaper, promoting the growing literature of her section of the country.
In 1884, while caring for her father, Ella wrote poetry and social science articles. She published Flowers of the Spirit, a volume of her poetry, in 1891. As one of the leaders of the Contemporary Club, she also hosted literary gatherings on topics such as Browning, Emerson, and political economy. (“Unitarian Church Became Established Here in 1869” - Los Angeles Herald ) As “Old Days on West Wilson Street,” a 1922 Capital Times article, recalled, "One of the most attractive of the literary salons of Wisconsin was modestly but most delightfully held at Miss Giles’ [sic] home during her life in Madison. Her friend, Miss Zona Gale, was often a sharer in the pleasures of the gatherings, and a member of the home circle for several winters while a student at the university.” Ella also fought for women’s rights as a member of The Association for the Advancement of Women. (Los Angeles Herald)
Although she lived in Wisconsin, Ella traveled frequently. One of those trips was to Yellowstone National Park with the Wisconsin Press Association. Stella A. Gaines Fifield, a Wisconsin journalist who is in A Woman of the Century, and her husband were in the same Pullman sleeper car as Ella during this Northern Pacific Railroad excursion. Ella spent winters in warmer climates.
After her father passed away in May of 1895, Ella decided to make Los Angeles her home. The Los Angeles Herald celebrated Ella’s entrance into the city with a lengthy laudatory article on September 29th. It concluded with praise from the newspaper and a friend: “Miss Giles possesses the rare quality of magnetism and unconsciously draws people about her. As a friend said of her, she has no sullen brow, no sarcastic smile and no bitter word for a sister’s success; but her cheerful ‘she deserves it all’ is as ready as her warm hand.”
Ella married journalist George Drake Ruddy in 1896. While in Los Angeles, she expanded her social network, getting to know author Hattie Tyng Griswold, Caroline Severance, and numerous others.
By 1902, Ella and George were living at Mission Cottage on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. She was President of the California Badger Club of Los Angeles and wrote Club Etiquette: A Conversation between a Club Woman and a Non-member Who Answer the Calling Question over the Tea-Cups.
During the Summer of 1904, Ella traveled from California to Short Beach, Connecticut to visit Ella Wheeler Wilcox, her long-time friend and fellow poet, at her spectacular warm-weather home. While on the way, Ella stopped in Boston to visit the homes of Longfellow and Lowell, as well as in Concord to see where Emerson, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts had lived. The two Wisconsin natives collaborated on a book, Around the Year, which was published that year. The next year, Ella wrote the "Description of Mrs. Wilcox's Home and Life" for her friend's autobiography, The Story of A Literary Career. She continued to write poetry, publishing Lace O' Me Life in 1916.
Ella passed away in Los Angeles on June 26, 1917. She is buried in Madison’s Forest Hill Cemetery.
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- The herald. [microfilm reel] (Los Angeles [Calif.]), 29 Sept. 1895. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042461/1895-09-29/ed-1/seq-18
- Wisconsin Historical Society. Wisconsin Local History & Biography Articles; "The West's Literature"; "no newspaper listed"; "Madison"; "WI" "1882-5-21"; viewed online at https://www.wisconsinhistory.org on May 30, 2020.
- Wisconsin Historical Society. Wisconsin Local History & Biography Articles; "Old Days on West Wilson Street"; "Capital Times"; "Madison"; "WI" "1922-12-15""; viewed online at https://www.wisconsinhistory.org on May 30, 2020.
- Wisconsin Historical Society. Wisconsin Local History & Biography Articles; "Unitarian Church Became Established Here in 1869"; "Wisconsin State Journal"; "Madison"; "WI" "1926-3-28""; viewed online at https://www.wisconsinhistory.org on May 30, 2020.
- The Story of a Literary Career by Ella Wheeler Wilcox. With Description of Mrs. Wilcox's Home and Life by Ella Giles Ruddy Price, 50 Cents.Published by Elizabeth Towne, Holyoke, Mass.Copyright 1905 Ella Wheeler WilcoxWeb version copyright 1999 Richard A. EdwardsOlympia, WA, USA. Viewed online at http://www.ellawheelerwilcox.org/bib/slc.htm on May 30, 2020.