Clarence & Ruby

If it’s true that in every relationship there is a lover and a beloved, then there’s no mystery who was which in the Darrow marriage. Though Ruby had been making her own way in the world for twelve years as a news reporter, when she married Clarence she decided to end her career. Ruby was now “Mrs. Darrow” and her tasks were much more than those of a wife and homemaker.

The bromide which holds that great actors always need someone working behind the scenes to make it all happen was doubly true in the Darrows’ relationship. Clarence was an eccentric who could get lost in his own thoughts, an interesting book, or something he was writing. As he approached his fifties, his foibles became more pronounced; it was increasingly difficult for him to focus on the humdrum of daily existence, and without Ruby he would have struggled with life’s details.

By the year of their marriage in 1903, Clarence was not only Chicago’s best known lawyer but was on the path to becoming the most famous attorney in American history. Looking through the lens of history, it’s apparent that Ruby saw the trajectory of Clarence’s career more clearly than any other woman he had known. She devoted her life to making Darrow’s star shine. Ordinarily, each person is the narrator and hero of his or her own life story.  Yet, whether aware of it or not, each is also a supporting cast member in the life stories of others. “Mrs. Darrow” was an exception. Clarence was the hero in the story of her life. Ruby consciously cast herself in the role of the prime supporting player in the life of a man who she believed would be remembered as the greatest lawyer in American history.

Ruby learned early in their relationship that some of the most basic details of life, namely food, clothing and shelter, were necessities to which Clarence paid little attention. As Ruby understood things, following the death of his mother when he was only 14, Clarence never was induced to eat anything he did not like, and so he developed a limited taste for foods.

Food was one thing, but clothing and shelter were different matters altogether. Despite being a prominent figure in the law at the time they married, Ruby felt that Clarence didn’t look the part. To her, he looked too much like a shopkeeper from Ohio and not enough like a lawyer from Chicago. Following their honeymoon, she decided that her husband needed a makeover. She tossed his rumpled clothes and had him fitted for hand-tailored suits, silk shirts, new shoes, and handkerchiefs with his initials. Yet despite Ruby’s pleadings, Clarence refused to part with his suspenders, wearing them long after belts were common. What Ruby eventually accepted was that Clarence’s “galluses” played an integral role in his courtroom persona. He often snapped them loudly, to punctuate a remark he had made, or to distract the jurors from a comment damaging to his client. Ruby also worked on Clarence’s hygiene, reminding him to bathe and herding him to the barbershop for haircuts and especially for manicures. Clarence often let unsightly crud accumulate under his fingernails.

At the time Clarence was called to Idaho to represent “Big Bill” Haywood and the Western Federation of Miners, Ruby was forced to place all their belongings in storage, where they remained for two years (1905-07). When the Darrows returned to Chicago Ruby immediately began hunting for a home more suitable for someone of Darrow’s standing. She found one in the Hyde Park section of Chicago, a short walk from the University of Chicago. Ruby located a spacious nine-room apartment on the top floor of a six-floor apartment building, the Midway Apartments, overlooking Jackson Park and Lake Michigan. As recalled by Ruby, the Midway “was built by a man who forgot that neither he nor the building would be everlasting, so every inch of the inside was solid oak.” Three of the master bedroom’s walls had windows, and from most of the rooms large uncurtained windows offered an ever-changing vista, a source of delight to Clarence.

The Darrows entertained a large realm of friends and acquaintances; ranging from professors, scientists and philosophers to journalists, poets and politicians, young and old, famous and obscure; everyone from cynical, street-wise politicians to idealistic, progressive social workers. During the many cocktail parties organized by Ruby, all manner of people and opinions were welcomed and the verbal combat was exhilarating. As might be expected, Clarence usually had the final word.

Not long after moving into the Midway, Darrow was implored by the leaders of the American Labor Movement to travel to Los Angeles to represent two brothers charged with murder. As Ruby made plans for their trip west, her instincts told her nothing good could come from their trip.

6 replies
  1. Nelson Johnson
    Nelson Johnson says:

    Happy to learn that Clarence & Ruby Darrow interest you. Their marriage and lives together were anything but “routine.”


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