By Kim Andrews ::
To describe Julia as a survivor does not do justice to her legacy. Julia Ruuttila survived economic depression, crushing psychological depression, domestic violence, and botched abortions—all while tirelessly advocating for the underprivileged in Portland and her other communities.
Julia was born April 26, 1907 to a family with strong roots in advocacy for the less fortunate. Her Father, John Goodman, was an active member of the Industrial Works of the World (also known as Wobblies). Her mother, Ella Goodman, was also a liberal activist. Ruuttila continued her parent’s inspirations and worked in a variety of radical causes. After growing up and witnessing the poor working conditions of the Oregon logging camps, she became a lifelong advocate for the poor and dispossessed.
In the 1930s and 40s, along with her husband, Ruuttila helped organize the lumber mill workers into the International Woodworkers of America (IWA). She also created the Ladies Auxiliary to support those same workers went they went on strike.
In addition to her efforts on the local front, Ruuttila created change on the national level. She lobbied against U.S. involvement in WWII, but once the bombing of Pearl Harbor happened, she supported the war effort. This action demonstrates her willingness to adapt and change as needed. Julia had the wisdom to recognize that the attack was a catalyst for the improvement and change.
Julia stood against machines and organizations of power. She advocated for the welfare of the Vanport community after the 1948 flood, writing about the horrible conditions and callous attitudes of Housing Authority. She also called them out for their concern over documents and money rather than moving the residents. As result of her writing campaign for the dispossessed, Oregon Public Welfare Commission fired Julia.
Even after a brief move to Astoria in 1951, she continued to advocate for the less fortunate. There she served on several committees. On the Columbia River Fisherman Protective Union, she pushed for increased wages and organized the Clatsop County Committee for Protection of Foreign Born to stop illegal arrests and deportations. On top of working for these committees, she was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee to account for her communist sympathies. Richard Arrens, subcommittee chief counsel, claimed that Julia was a “principal propagandists for the Communist party in the Northwest.”
By the 1970s, she demonstrated against the Vietnam War draft. Locally, she pushed for a freeze on nuclear weapons, and state sales tax. Ruuttila lived a full life advocating for the underprivileged, unions, and Portland. Her life is an example of dedication and hard work. Ruuttila took her liberal ideals and worked them into her life for the benefit of others.
Ruuttila eventually retired and moved to Anchorage, Alaska to live with her grandson. She died in Anchorage in 1991 leaving Portland and numerous individuals better off than they were before.
Want to Learn More? Check Out:
- Sandy Polishuk, “Julia Goodman Ruuttila.” Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission. Fall 2003.
- Sandy Polishuk, “Julia Ruuttila (1907-1991),” Oregon Encyclopedia.
- Sandy Polishuk, Sticking to the Union: An Oral History of the Life and Times of Julia Ruuttila, Google Books.
- Steven C. Beda, Julia Ruuttila, progressive crusader
- Steve Stallone, “Julia Ruuttila,” The Dispatcher, March 2004.
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Kim Andrews, Project Manager
Jeff Stone, Contributor
Tanya Monthey, Fact Checker