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 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.
When the kids were young, Sheila convinced George to go on a canoe camping trip. Although she had never been canoeing, she had read a few books and was confident they’d be able to figure it out. Sure enough, they did, and the entire family went camping and canoeing nearly every summer for the next four decades.
In the 1980s, Sheila learned that you could drive north into Canada to the end of the road — and then have your car winched onto a a freighter and carried further north along the St. Lawrence and Atlantic coast, to small coastal communities that were not otherwise connected to the outside world.
So of course, we went, with our big family van and all five children:
Sheila was an accomplished cook, in any setting.
Even our picnics were extensively catered.
She had worked as a short-order cook in a roadside restaurant near the Bourne bridge as a summer job while she was a teenager, but most of her cooking skills seemed to be self-taught, through books and experimentation .