Elizabeth S. Ridder was born in Amsterdam, NY on May 30, 1900. The “S” stood for her maiden name. She was the daughter of Florence Sullivan, who had moved to Amsterdam as a young boy with his family from Saratoga Springs and grown up to become a lawyer. Just before she was born, Elizabeth’s Dad had accepted the position of Amsterdam City Attorney in Mayor Sam Wallin’s administration. He had a brother Dan, also a lawyer, who had served as Assistant Attorney General of New York State. Dan convinced Elizabeth’s father to move to New York City and set up a law practice. With Dan’s connections, the firm was immediately successful.
So that’s how little four-year-old Elizabeth Sullivan from Amsterdam ended up spending the rest of her childhood growing up in the Big Apple. In addition to her father and her Uncle Dan, she had another uncle already living in New York. His name was Peter Sullivan and he worked in New York City’s Customs House. Peter’s son was Ed Sullivan, who was a year younger than his Amsterdam-born cousin. Ed would grow up to become a popular newspaper columnist and then the host of his own TV variety hour, which would become one of the most watched television shows in history. It was called “The Ed Sullivan Show” and it was on CBS on Sunday nights. It ran for 23 consecutive years and was ranked the 15th Greatest Television Show in history by TV Guide Magazine. (Hard to believe that none of my four children, who are all in their 30’s and 40’s, ever heard of Ed Sullivan, his variety show and just barely remember TV Guides!)
Elizabeth Ridder would graduate from Trinity College and then become a New York City public school teacher for the next 20 years. Always active in social causes, in 1934, she and her sister Claire co-founded Casita Maria, a settlement house in East Harlem for the children of Latino immigrants who were coming to New York City in droves. The facility relocated to the Bronx in 1961 and over 80 years later is still serving the cultural and assimilation needs of Latino youth.
In 1944 Elizabeth met and married Charles Ridder, one of the heirs to the Ridder Publishing Empire (later becoming the Knight- Ridder newspaper chain.) Charles was the publisher of “The Catholic News,” the official newspaper of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.
Mrs. Ridder was asked to serve on the national board of the Girl Scouts and two years later she became National Secretary of that organization, a position she would hold for the next two decades. She would receive several major awards for her philanthropy and social activism during her lifetime.
Her husband died in 1964. She lived until 93, passing away in August of 1993. She had no children of her own.