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Photograph of Ruth S. Atkinson - a headshot of an older woman with short grey hair, round glasses, and a sweater

Dignity Memorial

Devoted to sailing and the arts, Ruth Showalter Atkinson (1920-2013) appreciated the beauty of the South Coast. Born and educated in New Bedford, she opened a successful interior decorating business in nearby South Dartmouth. Ruth became deeply involved in community service and philanthropy with numerous local institutions throughout her life.

Devoted to sailing and the arts, Ruth Showalter Atkinson (1920-2013) appreciated the beauty of the SouthCoast. Born and educated in New Bedford, Ruth learned to sail and to lead through the Girl Scout Mariner program in South Dartmouth’s Padanaram. Ruth became deeply involved in community service with numerous local institutions throughout her life.

Ruth was born in New Bedford on December 7, 1920 to Hazel P. Tripp and Walter W. Atkinson. She attended New Bedford public schools and the local Swain School of Design. After Swain School, Ruth became the manager of the art supply department at Akin-Denison Company, a well-established New Bedford business. When Akin-Denison closed, she opened her own business in a small space at Crowell’s Art Store, a New Bedford framing business on the corner of Pleasant and Spring Streets. Ruth moved her art supply/interior decorating business in 1967 to nearby Elm Street in South Dartmouth. Often working with families for three generations, she became known for her intuitive sense of color and exquisite taste.

Summering in South Dartmouth’s Bay View as a child, Ruth had become a skilled sailor at Padanaram’s New Bedford Yacht Club through the Girl Scout Mariner program led by Louise E. Strongman. Once she aged out of the Mariners, Ruth helped Louise lead the group for many years, teaching other young women how to sail, craft, and perform community service. As a Mariner, Ruth made several coastal voyages with world-renowned sailor Irving Johnson aboard his brigantine Yankee. Later, she sailed with the Johnsons on Yankee cruises in Europe. For nearly 20 years, from the late 1970s through the 1990s, Ruth and her sister Hope Atkinson chartered a small cruiser on their own and explored French rivers and canals. With Ruth as first mate/cook and Hope as captain, friends joined them as working guests. During her travels, Ruth painted charming watercolors, later exhibited at the French Library in Boston, Alliance Francaise in Washington, D.C., Westport Art Group and in the local summer enclave of Nonquitt. Ruth and Hope also shared their travels with local libraries and schools through slides and Ruth’s watercolors.

Encouraged by her mother to become active in her community, Ruth was a member of several South Coast organizations. She was a charter member and former president of Paskamansett Bird Club as well as a charter member of Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust, Westport Historical Society, the Lloyd Center for Environmental Studies, and Friends of Dartmouth Libraries. She was also a member of The Old Dartmouth Historical Society/New Bedford Whaling Museum, the Bierstadt Society, Westport Art Group, and Allen’s Neck Community Club, where she served as president. To foster creativity, Ruth and Hope generously supported the Co-Creative Center (a mixed use development featuring an art gallery, education and meeting spaces) in downtown New Bedford and are named among the Center’s Pioneers for Innovation.

The Atkinson sisters’ generous bequest to the New Bedford Whaling Museum helps to grow the Museum’s endowment, support the Panorama project, and maintain the Museum’s German Christmas village, with figurines collected by their father. The Museum welcomed the sisters into the Bourne Society, which honors donors who have named the New Bedford Whaling Museum in their wills or estates. The Museum acknowledged their devotion to sailing and public service by naming the Sailors’(lecture) Series in their memory.

Ann O’Leary, Emily Bourne Research Fellow

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