Throughout our history, many accomplished educators have also distinguished themselves as civic leaders and political activists. Such is certainly the case with Ruth Chickering Clusen, a high school teacher who also served as the president of the League of Women Voters and as an assistant secretary in the US Energy Department.
Ruth Chickering was born in 1922 in the little town of Bruce, Rusk County, Wisconsin. Upon her high school graduation from Eau Claire, she enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in secondary education. Even before graduating from college, Ruth was working as a teacher. She spent her first two years teaching on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation in Montana, and she taught in public schools in the Green Bay area from 1947 to 1958.
Ruth met her future husband, Donald Clusen, when he was interviewed by her father for a teaching position at the old Wisconsin School for Boys in Waukesha County.They married a few years later, and settled with their two daughters in Green Bay, where Donald had accepted a position as a teacher at the state reformatory.
Ruth served as the president of the League of Woman Voters. She served in this capacity from 1974 to 1978. During those years, Ruth worked to bring environmental issues to national attention. She was especially concerned with water purity, particularly the condition of Green Bay, where water pollution was pervasive. Ruth also campaigned for women’s rights, working tirelessly but unsuccessfully to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. During the election year, she moderated debates between candidates Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.
Once Carter was elected president, he appointed Ruth Assistant Secretary of Energy, a position she held from 1978 to 1981. There she worked to reduced fossil fuel consumption at the Energy Department. For her efforts, Ruth was inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in 2001.
After leaving the Energy Department, Ruth returned to her roots as an educator. She became a member of the Board of Regents for the University of Wisconsin, where she worked from 1983 to 1992.
This chalkboard champion passed away March 14, 2005, in Bellevue, Wisconsin, from complications due to Alzheimer’s Disease. She was 82 years old.