I expect everyone remembers where they were when the U.S. Postal Service issued its stamp commemorating the 450th anniversary of the introduction of sheep to North America. Especially those of you who went to the Skaneateles post office the next day, January 20, 1971, to purchase sheep stamps, designed by Dean Ellis, and there encountered two real sheep, in the wool: Sissy and Little Inky from “Jill Acres,” Ruth Jillson’s farm on West Lake Road. It was a postal first.
Born in 1896, Ruth B. Jillson majored in music at Syracuse University, and thus turned naturally to sheep-raising. She was an active exhibitor at the New York State Fair, driving her sheep there in a blue pickup truck and sleeping in the cab during Fair Week, making her meals on a hotplate at the sheep pens. In 1964, she created the Wool Queen and trained Sissy to follow the Queen about on her royal duties. She also gave rides to little Fair-goers in a sheep-drawn cart. Jillson created an endowment at Cornell University for sheep research and encouraged many young people to attend Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She was active with the local 4H Club, a member of the New York State Wool Association and of the Syracuse Weavers Guild, carding and spinning her own wool.
Ruth Jillson, at the age of 73, holds a 12-day-old Persian lamb at the New York State Fair
Ruth Jillson died at the age of 78 in 1974. Her obituary noted, “She looked with disfavor on the skinning of week-old lambs for caracul pelts, and said, ‘I’d rather sit up all night keeping a newborn lamb alive.’ She often did this, too.” She was remembered in Skaneateles as “the shepherdess of the hills,” and as the woman who brought sheep to the post office. I wish I’d known her.