Mrs Gus Rublin: boxing and women’s suffrage
U 15.3257-9: Unsolicited testimonials […] My bust developed four inches in three weeks, reports Mrs Gus Rublin with photo.
When Sarah Mulrooney set sail as a servant girl from Ireland bound for New York in September 1898 she can hardly have expected to make a fleeting appearance in one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. In fact, she can hardly have expected to experience many of the things that happened to her in the following years.
Once she arrived in New York, she headed for a relative in Brooklyn. By the time of the 1900 United States census she was living and working as an ‘attendant’ or nurse at the Manhattan State Hospital just north of Brooklyn. During the early years of the century, she met and married the boxer Gustave Ruhlin (not Rublin) and settled down to run a saloon at 1490 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn.
For Don Gifford (Ulysses Annotated) the significance of this reference to ‘Mrs Gus Rublin’ is ‘unknown’.
And in the blue corner…
Gus Ruhlin was a big name in the States at the time. Throughout the 1890s the ‘Akron Giant’ (he fought out of Akron, Ohio) had been climbing the boxing career ladder. A gentle giant, personable, 6ft 2 inches tall, and of massive build, he was not always successful. But when he was good, he was very good.
Mrs Gus Ruhlin and the suffrage
After her marriage to Gus Ruhlin, Sarah Mulrooney became – naturally enough – Mrs Sarah Mulrooney Ruhlin. They ran the saloon on Myrtle Street, Brooklyn, at the corner of Irving Avenue. There were no children, but the couple were popular hosts and (apparently) successful investors. Things moved along quite quietly, for an ex-heavyweight champion and his energetic wife.
The event went ahead, though maybe without some of the events that the press fondly imagined:
New-York Tribune (1911) 15 October, p. 3
With the boxing suffrage benefit behind her, Sarah Ruhlin was ready to move on to new projects in her mission to bring suffrage not just to the comfortable classes but to the masses. Sadly the unexpected collapse and death of her husband Gus at his saloon on 13 February 1912 brought her suffrage work to a temporary halt while she herself fought off legal challenges from his family for a share in the $40,000 she inherited.
Joyce and Mrs Ruhlin
Into this framework he slotted Mrs Gus Ruhlin, in the genre of testimonial advertisements. It is unclear how he had heard of her, or why he chose to ridicule her. Perhaps he simply disliked her suffrage antics. Many Dubliners would have been aware of her husband, especially after his visit to the city in 1902. The idea of chest expansion may have come by association with the boxer Gus.
Why ‘Rublin’ for ‘Ruhlin’? Perhaps Joyce was attracted by the link between ‘Rublin’ and ‘Dublin’ – the Rosenbach manuscript has a clear [b]. But more likely he was confused by poor-quality newsprint or a source that had misspelt the surname: this was not unusual in the papers of the day:
Whatever the final link, young Sarah Mulrooney’s life shone brightly enough for it to strike tangentially the author of Ulysses as he pieced together the world of Circe.
I am grateful to Alison Sulentic for assistance in tracing the story of the Ruhlins.
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