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Ruth Ann Baldwin

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Ruth Ann Baldwin
BornSeptember 30, 1886
West Suffield, Connecticut, USA
OccupationScreenwriter, director, journalist
Spouse(s)Leo Pierson

Ruth Ann Baldwin[1] was a journalist who became a silent film writer and director active during the 1910s, one of the few women to direct in the early era of filmmaking. Despite the fact that she was one of the first female directors in America, not much is known about her, but the work she did in the 1910s was relevant to the society she lived in.

Early life

Ruth Ann Baldwin was born in September 1886 in West Suffield, Connecticut.[2] She was raised by her single mother, Abby Baldwin. She attended school in San Diego, California, before forging a career as a journalist.[3] Baldwin later married actor Leo Pierson, who appeared in many of the films she directed, including her two feature films, A Wife on Trial and '49–'17.


In 1913, Universal Film Manufacturing Company hired Baldwin as a writer.[1] She wrote scenarios for a number of films produced over the next few years, beginning with Damon and Pythias (1914). Most of the films for which she received writing credit are shorts, but Baldwin also contributed to feature-length films.

In December 1914, Universal sent Baldwin to London to assist E. Phillips Oppenheim with turning his, The Black Box into a 15-episode serial.[4] Phillips was an experienced novelist, but The Black Box was the first of his works to be adapted for film and Baldwin had gained a reputation for scenario expertise.

In August 1916, after working for Universal for several years as a writer and a six-month stint as a film editor, Baldwin became a director for Universal.[4] Her first directorial effort was The Mother Call (1916), a one-reel drama.[1]

In 1917, she directed a feature-length film called A Wife on Trial.[5] Based on the novel The Rose Garden Husband, and starring her husband and Mignon Anderson, the film centers on a girl who dreams of owning a garden and ends up marrying a paralyzed man who owns one. Critic Robert C. McElravy of Moving Picture World opined, "... it gets over extremely well and will please the average audience immensely".[6]


In 1917, Baldwin began work on writing and directing a silent film called '49–'17, which she is most known for. It was the first Western directed by a woman. The film was five reels, and according to The New York Clipper, it was "being produced on a more elaborate scale than any play she has yet handled".[7] Based on the short story "The Old West Per Contract", it starred Joseph Girard and Leo Pierson. It centers on a secretary working for a judge to restore an abandoned town, but falls in love with a local woman. The film was thought of as a generic genre film upon its release; however, most critics still enjoyed the film.[citation needed]

A reviewer for Exhibitor Herald in 1917 described the film as "boresome", and wrote that "'49–'17 is one of those productions which makes one move from one side of the seat to the other, open and close, and then finally drop off to sleep without the slightest effort".[8]

A more current review of '49–'17 by Cullen Gallagher was positive toward the film, saying "Beyond its irrefutable historical significance, '49–'17 stands out for its clever reworking of traditional Western mythology at a time when the cinematic genre was still in its infancy".[9]


'49–'17 is considered Baldwin's final directorial effort. Following '49–'17, Baldwin left Universal and returned to screenwriting. From 1919 until around 1921, Baldwin wrote scenarios and screenplays for many more films.

In June 1921, Baldwin joined the Clubhouse of the Screen Writers Guild, and was elected to the board of directors.[10]


  1. ^ a b c Cooper, Mark Garrett (September 27, 2013). "Ruth Ann Baldwin". In Jane Gaines; Radha Vatsal; Monica Dall'Asta (eds.). Women Film Pioneers Project. New York: Center for Digital Research and Scholarship, Columbia University Libraries. Retrieved 2015-09-29.
  2. ^ "Miss Ruth Ann Baldwin Sails For Europe". Moving Picture World. 23 (2): 197. January 9, 1915. Retrieved 2015-09-29 – via Internet Archive.
  3. ^ "Scenario Writers and Editors". Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual: 284. 1921 – via
  4. ^ a b "Ruth Ann Baldwin is to be Added to Staff of "U" Directors". Motion Picture News. 14 (8): 1214. August 26, 1916. Retrieved 2015-09-29 – via Internet Archive.
  5. ^ "A Wife on Trial (advertisement)". Motion Picture News. 16 (3): 420. July 21, 1917. Retrieved 2015-09-29 – via Internet Archive.
  6. ^ McElvary, Robert C. (August 18, 1917). "A Wife on Trial". Moving Picture World. 33 (7): 1084. Retrieved 2015-09-29 – via Internet Archive.
  7. ^ "News of the Motion Picture World". The New York Clipper. LXV (26). August 1, 1917. p. 37.
  8. ^ "Joseph Girard in '49–'17". Reviews. Exhibitors Herald. V (18): 27. October 27, 1917. Retrieved 2015-09-29 – via Internet Archive.
  9. ^ Gallagher, Cullen (July 27, 2009). "49–17". Not Coming to a Theater Near You. Retrieved 2015-09-29.
  10. ^ "Elected". The Photodramatist. III (1): 6. June 1921. Retrieved 2015-09-29 – via Internet Archive.
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