Sheila was born in Oxnard, CA on March 1, 1945.
Her father, John Lawrence Ryan, was a civil engineer.
Her mother, Margaret Patricia Mullen, was a school teacher.
This is the earliest picture we have of her:
Sheila’s parents moved to Peterborough, New Hampshire when she was young, so that her father could work on the Edward MacDowell Dam, constructed in by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1948-1950.
This picture shows Sheila outside the Peterborough house:
This photo shows a young Sheila standing in front of some type of tracked construction equipment, during a visit to one of her father’s engineering project sites:
She had three younger siblings: Margaret (“Marnie”), John (“Johnny”), and Kathleen (“Kathy”).
This photo shows the four of them standing by the Cape Cod Canal, near Gray Gables:
Sheila was a successful student at Archbishop Williams High School in Braintree.
In addition to her academic success, she was also a Massachusetts finalist in the Betty Crocker Homemakers contest.
In her senior year, the Boston Archdiocese awarded her a full scholarship to the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., where she earned a degree in philosophy.
The Johnson administration excluded any media from the area of Sheila’s March 11, 1965 sit-in at the White House, so the only photo we’ve found of the protest inside the White House comes from the archives of Johnson’s Presidential Library:
— From “March 11, 1965. Twelve protestors stage a sit-in demonstration at the White House in relation to civil rights.” posted to “LBJ Time Machine“, a Tumblr run by the LBJ Presidential Library
Sheila’s partially obscured but still recognizable in the center back of the group:
Update: The LBJ Library posted a second picture from a different angle:
Second Update: Another area of the LBJ Library’s web site has these in higher resolution, and adds a third photo, taken before the other two, while they were still sitting in the Center Hall outside of the library.
Here’s a close-up of Sheila:
There must be more photographs from this sequence in their archive.
From the front page of the Mt Vernon Register News, Thursday, March 11, 1965:
The sit-in was front-page news in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on March 12, 1965:
The sit-in was front-page news in Charleston, West Virginia, which ran the same AP story:
— From “White House Seiged by Sit-In“, the Charleston Gazette, Friday March 12, 1965, Front page and page 27.
The protest was reported in the Long Beach Press Telegram
— From the Press Telegram, Friday, March 12, 1965, page 2.
This photo from the Boston Globe on March 12, 1965 shows Sheila and two other women talking with their lawyer following their arrest at the White House.
The Boston Globe reported on Sheila’s protest and arrest on March 12, 1965.
From the San Antonio Express, Friday, March 12, 1965, Page 1A and 16A.
The sit-in protestors were tried and convicted three months later:
The New York Times reported on Sheila’s sentencing on June 23, 1965:
They were released on $300 bond while they filed an appeal:
|55.DC.5.||US v 7 Defs (formerly District of Columbia v) (Dist of Col Ct of Genl Sess) Mar 11, 1965: 7 staged sit-in inside the White House to protest re Selma, Ala; arrested. Je 22: convicted; 180 days; $300 appeal bond. Pending.|
During a delay after sentencing, while she was finishing her college degree, Sheila began writing articles for the Washington Free Press, an “underground” newspaper.
According to Wikipedia:
The Washington Free Press was a biweekly radical underground newspaper published in Washington, DC, beginning in 1966, when it was founded by representatives of the five colleges in Washington as a community paper for local Movement people. It was an early member of the Underground Press Syndicate. Starting in Dec. 1967 they shared a three-story house in northwest Washington with the Liberation News Service, the Washington Draft Resistance Union, and a local chapter of the anti-draft group Resistance.
Around this time, she also became involved in the Students for a Democratic Society.
Cathy Wilkerson, one of the Weathermen who survived the March 6, 1970 explosion in Greenwich Village, had met Sheila when she first moved to Washington D.C. in 1967:
Sheila Ryan wrote about the connections between Democratic Party leaders and the Institute of International Labor Research, an organization that designed and set up “left” parties in seventeen Latin American countries, supporting them with funds from the CIA. The leaders of these parties then helped the United States to orchestrate the installation of politicians loyal to the United States, like Bosch in the Dominican Republic, without showing their hand too obviously. WFP writers also researched connections between local political people, including a few in the peace movement, and CIA-funded foundations and institutes. Through these articles, and others published in Ramparts magazine during the same period, I learned to search for the funding behind any foundation, organization, or institute and to stay suspicious of the hidden hand of the CIA, which in the name of democracy often sought to undermine local grass-roots forces.
… Peter Henig’s friend from Earlham, Marilyn McNabb… like Peter and Sheila, was drawn to the task of teasing apart the connections between the various circles of power in the country, and in so doing, showed how these circles knowingly served each other.
— From Flying Close to the Sun: My Life and Times As a Weatherman, By Cathy Wilkerson, Seven Stories Press 2007, p 136-137.
We have not been able to locate an online copy of this article, which has been cited in a couple of recent New Left History books, so all we have to go on is the title:
Margie Stamberg, “Sheila Ryan Beaten by Prison Guard,” Washington Free Press, November 23, 1967, 4
From the middle of 1968 through early 1970, Sheila was a member of the collective that ran Liberation News Service, or LNS, which was an alternative press service for underground and new left publications.
For more information about LNS, you can see the brief overview in Wikipedia, an essay about “the new media” published by LNS in 1969, or Allen Young’s essay from 1990. The 1972 fundraising letter from Jack Newfield, Nat Hentoff, I.F. Stone, and William M. Kunstler to the New York Review of Books also details their impact.
Many of the LNS packets from August 1968 through 1977 are available at Archive.org. (The collection of packets from 1967 through 1968 was taken by LNS founders Bloom and Mungo and is now archived at the University of Massachusetts.) The LNS photo archive is held at NYU. The LNS research library is archived at Temple University in Philadelphia.
One New Left historian remembers Sheila in 1968 as a hard-core radical:
By 1968 important new elements were joining the ranks of the disillusioned. Business, much of it having assumed a partial and tentative membership in the liberal coalition, began to fear the inflation caused by the war. An antiwar group composed of Wall Street business executives, including Marriner Eccles, chair of the Federal Reserve Board under Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, took out an ad in the New York Times opposing the war on grounds it termed practical.
One antiwar activist, Sheila Ryan, attacked Eccles for owning mining operations that might conceivably benefit from the war’s end: evidently since he was not openly on the side of Hanoi and the National Liberation Front he had to be on Johnson’s. Ms. Ryan and some other members of the New Left had come to believe that only mass violence by urban guerrillas would end the evil sway of United States imperialism. Appearing to dislike Eccles and such liberals as Arthur Schlesinger more ardently than they did Johnson, they took as their hero the Argentine-Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Ché” Guevara.
— In “Making Peace With the 60s“, by David Burner, Princeton University Press, 1996, page 208.
Here’s how LNS covered the settlement of the charges resulting from the LNS split that summer:
This article by Sheila was printed in the April 10, 1969 edition of the SDS New Left Notes:
Panthers & Pigs: New York
by Sheila Ryan
Liberation News Service
NEW YORK, NEW YORK (LNS) — “SMASH PANTHER BOMB PLOT!* “COPS: CUBA HELPS PANTHERS PROWL,” and “SEEK PANTHER LINK TO STOLEN YOUTH FUNDS” displaced the headlines of the previous week describing a city in disintegration— hospitals being closed because adequate funds were denied by the city and state governments, welfare appropriations cut so that clients would be hard-put to survive, the City College president resigning because the legislators had cut the budget below minimum, high school students in a state of rebellion.