From Everything Changes, the Awl’s newsletter. Subscribe here.
Happy New Year. Here are some facts about human sexuality expert and radio personality Dr. Ruth.
Dr. Ruth was born Karola Ruth Siegel on June 4, 1929, in Wiesenfeld, Germany.
The SS took Ruth’s father away a week after Kristallnacht.
At age 10, her mother and grandmother sent her via Kindertransport to Switzerland.
She grew up in an orphanage in Switzerland and stopped receiving letters from her parents in September of 1941. Years later, she learned that they had been killed in the Holocaust.
As a teenager, Ruth decided to emigrate with some friends to Palestine. There, she changed her name to Ruth.
Her first boyfriend’s nickname was Putz.
She “first had sexual intercourse on a starry night, in a haystack without contraception” on a kibbutz.
She joined Haganah, an underground organization fighting to create a Jewish homeland, and was trained to be a sniper.
“As a four-foot-seven woman, I would have been turned away by any self-respecting army anywhere else in the world,” she says. “But I had other qualities that made me a valuable guerrilla.” One of them was “a knack for putting bullets exactly where I want them to go.”
In 1948, during the Israeli War of Independence, she was seriously injured when an exploding shell took off the top of one of her feet. (It happened on her birthday.)
She wasn’t able to walk again for several months. She had a “brief but intense love affair” with her nurse.
In 1950, a soldier from her kibbutz proposed marriage. Ruth accepted and the couple moved to Paris.
She studied and later taught psychology at the Sorbonne. “Everybody around me didn’t have money,” she said. “We went to cafes and had one cup of coffee all day long. Everybody.”
After five years, her marriage ended and her husband went back to Israel.
Ruth got a restitution check from the West German government for $1,500 and decided to immigrate to the United States with a French boyfriend.
In New York, Ruth gave birth to a baby girl called Miriam. She had married Miriam’s father, a Frenchman, to legalize the pregnancy but decided to divorce him.
She took English lessons and worked as a maid to support herself and her daughter. At the same time, she took evening classes for a master’s degree in sociology.
In 1961, Ruth was on a ski trip to the Catskills with a boyfriend (6’1″) when she met Manfred Westheimer, also a Jewish refugee (and more her size: 5’9″). They got married nine months later.
Ruth became an American citizen. She and Manfred had a son called Joel.
In the late 1960s, Ruth took a job at a Planned Parenthood in Harlem. At first she didn’t know what to make of the frank discussions people at the office had about sex, but she soon became comfortable with it.
She became a project director at Planned Parenthood and in the evenings took classes toward a doctorate in family and sex counseling at Columbia University.
In 1980, Ruth gave a lecture to some New York broadcasters about the need for better (and more honest) sex ed programming.
An exec at a station called WYNY was so impressed she offered Ruth a 15-minute slot on the station at midnight on Sundays.
Those 15 minutes evolved into Ruth’s famous hour-long call-in show, Sexually Speaking. They built in a seven-second delay just in case.
The phone lines were jammed during every show. By 1983, Ruth had 250,000 listeners every week, more than many New York stations had during morning drive-time. The next year, the show was syndicated nationally.
Her catchphrase: “Get some.”
Ruth became a household name after appearing on Late Night With David Letterman frequently in the early 1980s and later making appearances on Hollywood Squares.
She has written several books about human sexuality, including Dr. Ruth’s Guide to Good Sex and Sex for Dummies.
She says she is old-fashioned about sex: “I don’t believe in hooking up. I don’t believe in sex on the first date. I want people to have a relationship before they have sex. I can’t say how long before. Also, you don’t have to share your fantasies. If you have sex with your partner, and the woman thinks about a whole football team in bed with her, that’s okay, but keep your mouth shut about it.”
Ruth once started a line of low-alcohol wine called “Vin d’amour.” “It wasn’t very successful. It was very sweet.”
An off-Broadway show about her life called Becoming Dr. Ruth opened in October of 2013.
Her husband died in 1997. She has four grandchildren.
In December of 2014, Ruth was a guest at a wedding in the Bronx. The groom, Rabbi Benjamin Goldschmidt, was the great-grandson of the woman who helped rescue her from Nazi Germany 75 years before.
Want Everything Changes twice a month in your inbox? Subscribe here.