Historical Marker #2192, located in Franklin County, KY (Frankfort), commemorates the business and culinary achievements of famous confectioner Ruth Booe.
Ruth Hanly Booe was born on October 28, 1891. Little of her early life is documented, as the majority of her legacy began with the start of her candy company. The company can trace its roots to 1919, when Booe, along with colleague Rebecca Gooch, were making their living by substitute teaching in Franklin County—for wages as low as forty dollars a month.
Dissatisfied with the school board’s failure to raise these wages, Booe and Gooch decided to find their fortunes elsewhere. They capitalized upon the onset of Prohibition by purchasing a recently-closed barroom from J.J. King in the Old Frankfort Hotel, outfitting it with a curved apple marble countertop, purchased for ten dollars from the Old Capitol Hotel. Despite initial ridicule from townspeople, the pair began cooking candies in a copper kettle, cooling them on the marble countertop, and selling them to visitors from around the state. They christened their business Rebecca-Ruth Candies, penning the slogan, “Now That’s Taste!”
Booe and Gooch met with quick success, refining and expanding their recipes and advertising via word-of-mouth, a strategy that melded well with the ladies’ magnetic personalities. In one of their frequent publicity maneuvers, the pair would take their own candies on trips to the movie theater, and would stage loud conversations filled with praises for their treats: “My, Ruth, this is WONDERFUL candy! Where on earth did you get it?”
After five years in the business, Ruth married Charles Booe in 1924 and the pair moved to Fort Thomas in Northern Kentucky, leaving the candy business to Gooch. Ruth gave birth to her son, John Charles, in 1927, but her husband died only a few months later from wounds suffered in World War I. In 1929, Gooch, having found a husband of her own, offered to sell the candy business back to Booe. Booe accepted the offer and returned to Frankfort that year to run the store.
The following years would greet Booe and her small team of chefs with hardship after hardship. The onset of the Great Depression lessened sales drastically, and in 1933, the kitchen was all but destroyed by a fire, with the marble countertop being the only surviving piece. Undaunted by this tragedy, and confident that her business would return to its former glory, Booe convinced an Old Frankfort Hotel housekeeper named Franny Rump to loan her about fifty dollars. With this sum to augment her meager savings, Booe reestablished her facility.
Even in the slim years of the Depression, Rebecca-Ruth Candies found their way into several prominent local and state events. At Frankfort’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1936, one customer sparked inspiration in Booe’s mind when he dreamily postulated of a candy or chocolate that incorporated Kentucky bourbon. Over the next two years, Booe developed and completed the recipe for her world-famous Bourbon Balls, which remain a cherished treat to this day.
Business climbed steadily through the waning years of the Depression, until encountering another major obstacle in the sugar and fuel rations of World War II. Booe called upon the local relationships she had cultivated over the years, finding that friends and customers were often willing to donate their extra sugar rations and other supplies to her business.
Having conquered these tribulations, Rebecca-Ruth Candies has met with relatively smooth sailing ever since. Although their fame and sales could accommodate the company’s growth into a larger corporate brand, Booe has ensured that the operation remains a small, family-owned business that always selects for handmade quality over factory quantity. She passed away on September 11, 1973. Her grandson, Charles Booe, now runs the business, which stands today as a delicious example of what enterprising and independent Kentucky women have accomplished.