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A Friend Through Tragedy

In the months before JFK was killed, a Quaker woman shared her heart—and her home—with Oswald’s wife

have not been able to look in the face the idea that if I had led my life differently President Kennedy might be alive. Perhaps most people whose lives touch the matter have a host of ‘if only’ thoughts. Mine will be with me forever.

If only she’d known a rifle had been hidden in her garage.

If only she’d realized the violence of which her friend’s husband was capable.

If only Ruth Hyde Paine had seen beyond the surface of Lee Harvey Oswald …

These ruminations by a shaken Ruth—from an essay presented as Warren Commission Exhibit No. 460—are among the personal reflections, correspondence, and related materials in the Ruth Paine Hyde Papers on Marina Oswald, RG5/109, a permanent collection of Swarthmore’s Friends Historical Library donated by Paine to the College in 1985.

A Quaker mother of two, Ruth befriended Marina and her family in 1963, inviting them into the home she owned with husband Michael Paine ’53. It was the last place Lee Oswald would sleep before President Kennedy was killed.

Through a series of letters translated from Russian (the originals of which are available at FHL), the two women opened up to each other, and—unwittingly—to the ages.

March 4, 1963
Dallas, Texas

Hello Ruth!

Yesterday I received your letter and was very happy that you had not forgotten us. Come and see us, certainly. Anytime from morning on, whatever is convenient for you …

Marina Oswald

The Oswalds, still relatively new in town, had been invited to a party. There, they met Ruth Paine.

Ruth was a 30-year-old with an affinity for Russian. A Quaker since college, she embraced the faith’s peaceful ideals and joined a pen-pal program with students from the Soviet Union—a Friends initiative that sought to bridge the era’s East-West divide. As Ruth’s interest in Russian grew, she studied the language in hopes of one day knowing it well enough to teach.

Aware of this, a friend asked her to a party where she could put her Russian skills to use.

Eight months after arriving in Texas, Marina Oswald was lonely and still knew little English—and her husband, Lee, liked it that way. A Soviet sympathizer, self-taught Marxist, and former Marine, Lee met and married his Russian bride in 1961 during a defection to the USSR. A year later, frustrated by poor work and pay, he requested a return to the U.S. and settled in Dallas with Marina and their new baby, June.

At the party, Lee talked about life in the USSR while Marina mostly kept to herself. Though she and Ruth barely had a chance to speak, they managed to exchange addresses and vowed to be in touch. A few weeks later, they reconnected at a park and got to know each other through rudimentary Russian.

Like Marina, Ruth had a young family of her own. After moving to Texas in the late ’50s, she and her husband, Michael, had two children 15 months apart, Lynn and Christopher. They made their home in Irving, a booming suburb northwest of Dallas.

Michael’s job with Bell Helicopter had drawn them from the Philadelphia area, where the couple first met through a folk-dancing group. A native New Yorker, Michael spent two years at Harvard before transferring to Swarthmore; he left after a year. Ruth studied at Antioch College in her home state of Ohio and took Quaker courses at Pendle Hill. After a two-year courtship, she and Michael married at Media Friends Meeting, just down the road from Swarthmore.

But by 1963, they were far from Pennsylvania, their marriage crumbling. Michael moved into an apartment one town over, while Ruth stayed in Irving with the children. Despite this, the two remained cordial, getting together often to catch a movie or sit down for dinner.

March 26, 1963
Irving, Texas

Dear Marina,

Michael has just told me that he would be glad to come by for Lee and you on Tuesday, April 2nd if it is convenient for you to come to dinner at our house then. … He wants to meet Lee and you. You can, of course, bring June. I will put up a bed for her …


Michael had arrived early at the Oswalds’ Dallas apartment. As Marina loaded the car for the ride to Irving for dinner, Michael struck up some small talk with Lee—and took notice of the curt tone he took with his wife. In between polite chatter with Michael on politics and the Soviet Union, Lee barked demands at Marina in Russian.

At dinner and afterward, bothered by his demeanor, Ruth struggled to keep conversation with Lee—but her friendship with Marina blossomed. In Russian, the women bonded over the shared experiences of young motherhood and the complexities of their marriages. Marina confided that Lee wanted her to return to the USSR against her will—she loved America and was desperate to learn English, despite Lee forbidding it. Marina also confessed some happy news: She was pregnant with her second child, due in the fall.

Since returning to the U.S., Lee had struggled to maintain a job. A position with a welding company lasted just three months, followed by a stint at a graphic-arts firm that fizzled six months later. With few new prospects in Dallas, he and Marina made plans to move to New Orleans, where Lee was born and still had family.

Concerned about Marina, Ruth offered her friend a temporary place to stay. Once Lee found work and a new home for the family, Ruth would then drive Marina and June to Louisiana to meet him.

25 May, 1963
New Orleans

Dear Ruth! Hello!

… I’m ashamed to confess that I am a person of moods. And my mood currently is such that I don’t feel much like anything. As soon as you left all “love” stopped, and I am very hurt that Lee’s attitude toward me is such that I feel each minute that I bind him. …

I kiss and hug you and the children. June sends greetings to Lynn and Chris –ha, ha! Greetings to you and Michael from Lee.


The New Orleans reunion was not a happy one. Marina was less than charmed by their cockroach-infested apartment, and with no friends there beyond Lee’s family members, her feelings of alienation grew.

After consulting with Michael, Ruth offered Marina a lifeline: Move in with me and the children for as long as you want. Ruth could teach her English, help her care for June, and ensure she got prenatal treatment. In a year or two, Marina would be ready to find a job of her own.

By early fall, Lee and Marina had finally consented. Ruth drove the 500 miles to New Orleans to fetch her friend, and Marina cheered when they crossed the Texas state line. Upon their return, Michael swung home to retrieve some tools and help the women unload luggage into the garage—several duffel bags and a package wrapped in a blanket.

Lee wasn’t far behind. Ten days after the women arrived in Irving, he called to say he, too, was back in Texas, looking for work in Dallas as he stayed at a boarding house. He hitch-hiked to the Paine house to see Marina that day and made plans to return and spend the night over weekends.

Still jobless by mid-October, with a baby due any day, Lee finally caught a break. Over coffee with a neighbor, Ruth learned of an opening at the Texas School Book Depository. Lee quickly applied.

Days later, the Oswalds had plenty to celebrate: a new baby, Rachel, and a new job for Lee.

On Nov. 21, Lee showed up unexpectedly at the Paine house, the first time he’d come by without asking Ruth beforehand. The women were hardly surprised—he and Marina had been fighting, and both saw it as his way of making amends.

After dinner, Lee turned in early. Ruth made her way out to the garage and was surprised to find the light on inside. Figuring Lee had gone in to retrieve some belongings, she retreated, giving it little thought.

Lee had already left for work the next morning when Ruth woke up at 7:30. Remembering it was the day of President Kennedy’s lauded Dallas visit, she turned on the TV and set about her day.

Marina joined her later, baby Rachel in arms, as the motorcade made its way through downtown, passing by Lee’s new workplace. Together, they watched in horror as the announcement came in: The president had been shot.

As lunch went cold on the kitchen table, a knock came at the front door. Six officers and sheriff’s deputies were outside. Lee was in custody, they said, accused of killing a police officer near his rooming house.

Though the authorities lacked a search warrant, Ruth pointed them to the garage, where most of Lee’s things were stored. They asked whether Lee possessed a rifle; to Ruth’s surprise, Marina said he did—she’d seen it a few weeks ago, poking out from a wrapped-up blanket.

As they stood there, the blanket lay empty, discarded on the garage floor.

Dec. 27, 1963
Marina, dear,

Truly, I don’t know what to say. I don’t know whether it is better to be quiet or to speak. Things are already difficult for you, and I don’t want to trouble you. I want to explain that I felt lonely when I read through your letter to me. I was very happy to see the letter, but when I had read it I knew nothing further about you. You wrote me as if I were an old grandmother and not a friend. You closed your face to me. Is it true, have I offended you? If so, excuse, forgive me, please …


Marina Oswald and her daughters left the Paine house for good the day after the assassination. Between countless interviews and visits from reporters and authorities, Ruth grieved for her friend and pleaded for her to contact her, as calls and letters poured in from strangers expressing sympathy and support.

Marina spoke before the Warren Commission. So did Ruth and Michael Paine, providing key testimony in the assassination investigation. To their minds—and Marina’s—Lee killed Kennedy, and did so alone. (Years later, Marina publicly reversed her position.) Despite government praise for their cooperation and published accounts attesting to their innocence, the Paines—and their proximity to history—would electrify conspiracy theorists for decades to come, insisting the couple played a more sinister role than “friend.”

Either way, the endlessly probed story of JFK’s assassination isn’t complete without Ruth and Marina. Their papers at FHL can be read as a tiny beacon in this chapter of American history—a light illuminating the Quaker ideals of community and friendship—or as a complicating shade hinting at a darker truth. Whatever conclusion readers come to, these files, housed forever on Swarthmore’s campus, are fascinating reading.

Though the women’s kinship wouldn’t survive the tragic events of November 1963, Ruth held out hope their bond could be mended, if only others knew the full story:

This tragedy has smashed the private world in which two mothers, Marina and I, concerned ourselves with diapers. But we are still the same two people, who must go through each day by the light it gives. I hope she can forgive me for adding to the invasion of her privacy. I want the nation to know what an innocent, fine person she is.


Michael Paine ’53 (1928–2018)

Michael Paine ’53, an aeronautical engineer who studied at Harvard and Swarthmore but became internationally known due to being an acquaintance of Lee Harvey Oswald, died March 1, 2018.

Although Michael barely knew Oswald—his estranged wife, Ruth, had befriended the latter’s Russian wife, Marina, and occasionally included him in plans—the fact that their paths crossed a few times ensured an enduring place in the public consciousness for Michael. After the assassination of President Kennedy, Michael testified before the Warren Commission that he believed Oswald had acted alone, and, decades later, was reported to have penned an essay, “My Experience With Lee Harvey Oswald.”

Beyond that, Michael was a lifelong activist who supported conservation, Planned Parenthood, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

His testimony to the Warren Commission regarding Ruth and Marina’s friendship adds an interesting layer to this complicated story:

“Ruth was mostly learning the language, so she was limited in her vocabulary and couldn’t talk about—she explained to me she couldn’t talk about—political or economic subjects,” he testified. “It was a topic on which her vocabulary didn’t serve her, but it did appear she had spoken of quite a number of things. Marina had told her about movies she had seen in the Soviet Union, but I thought that ... Ruth’s knowledge of Marina was fairly shallow. And Marina was quite reserved. Now, it may have been more so when I was in the house that she was not as much at ease as she was, perhaps, with Ruth herself.

“Of course, Marina was in a position where she always had to be polite. Ruth is easy to get along with, however, so I didn’t expect Marina to have difficulty. But I didn’t think Ruth and Marina were bosom friends or buddies, but neither, of course, I didn’t mean to suggest the opposite.

“Ruth was enjoying Marina’s company, and I was glad to have Marina staying with Ruth. It actually reduced the cost. Ruth saved money. The bills were less while Marina was there, and Ruth, in general, was happier.”