Ruth Pitter Biography

Emma Thomas "Ruth" Pitter (7 November 1897 – 29 February 1992) was a 20th-century British poet.

She was the first woman to receive the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1955, and was appointed a CBE in 1979 to honour her many contributions to English literature.

In 1974, she was named a "Companion of Literature", the highest honour given by the Royal Society of Literature.


Pitter was born in Ilford. She was employed at the War Office from 1915 to 1917, later working as a painter at a furniture company in Suffolk, Walberswick Peasant Pottery Co., where she remained until 1930. In Suffolk, she befriended Richard and Ida Blair at Southwold, the parents of George Orwell, and later helped Orwell find lodgings in London in 1927, taking a vague interest in his writing, of which she was generally critical.

Later, Pitter and her lifelong good friend, Kathleen O'Hara, operated Deane and Forester, a small firm that specialized in decorative, painted furniture. The business closed when World War II began. Pitter took work in a factory. After the war, she and O'Hara opened a small business painting trays. Pitter was skilful at the flower-painting used in both furniture and tray decorating.

From 1946 to 1972, she was often a guest on BBC radio programs, and from 1956 to 1960, she appeared regularly on the BBC's The Brains Trust, one of the first television talk programmes.


Pitter began writing poetry early in life under the influence of her parents, George and Louisa (Murrell) Pitter, both primary schoolteachers. In 1920, she published her first book of poetry with the help of Hilaire Belloc. Despite her business and factory work, Pitter managed to spend a few hours a day writing poetry.

She went on to publish 18 volumes of new and collected verse over a 70-year career as a published poet. Many of her volumes met with some critical and financial success.

She received the Hawthornden Prize in 1937 for A Trophy of Arms, published the previous year. In 1954 she won the William E. Heinemann Award for her book, Ermine (1953).