Sunday, September 12, 2010

79: The Self-Empowered Woman: Ruth Gruber

Dear Followers,

Today I would like to introduce you to a truly remarkable Self-Empowered Woman named Ruth Gruber who was born in 1911, and still lives in New York City. She grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, and devoted her life to working on behalf of the underdog (7: Magnificent Obsession). Her parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants (3: Belief in the Unbelievable), and they encouraged her to get as much education as possible.

Gruber entered New York University when she was only 15 years old, and three years later she won a post-graduate fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (13:More Than Meets the Eye). Gruber had been so inspired by her German professor that she learned the language and studied the culture thoroughly enough to win another fellowship from the Institute of International Education to study at the University of Cologne.

While in Cologne, she became - at 20 years old - the youngest person in the world to receive a doctorate. Her Ph.D. (believe it or not) was in German Philosophy, Modern English Literature, and Art History. During this time, she became close friends with Virginia Woolf.

While in Germany, Gruber witnessed Nazi rallies, and when she returned to the U.S. she worked to make Americans aware of the dangers of Nazism. Her writing career began in 1932, and in 1935 she wrote a series about women living under Communism and Fascism for the New York Herald Tribune. And while working for that newspaper she became the first foreign correspondent to fly through Siberia into the Soviet Arctic (11: Risk Addiction).

Gruber was appointed Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior (Harold L. Ickes) during World War II, and was asked to conduct a study that would permit G.I.s to homestead in Alaska after the war. In 1944, she undertook a secret mission to bring 1,000 Jewish refugees and wounded American soldiers from Italy to America. Ickes made her "a simulated general" so that if her plane were shot down the Nazis (under the Geneva Convention) would keep her alive. Her book Haven describes this harrowing journey, and a 2001 film of the same name was based on the book: Natasha Richardson portrayed Ruth Gruber. Sadly, it took two years for the government to allow the quarantined refugees to apply for American residency.

Gruber returned to journalism and continued to work to help displaced Jewish refugees, particularly those who wanted to move to Palestine. She met and photographed many of those who were on the 1947 ship Exodus as well as the prison ship Runnymede.

When she was 40 years old, Gruber married, then had two children, but continued her career as a journalist. Her column for the Hadassah Magazine, "Diary of an American Housewife," was a particularly popular feature.

In 1979, when she was 68 years old, she won the "National Jewish Book Award" for Raquela: A Woman of Israel, which was about an Israeli nurse; Gruber had spent an entire year in Israel researching Raquela Prywes' life.

In 1985, Gruber travelled to Ethiopia, and later wrote a book about Ethiopian Jews called Rescue. Gruber has written over 18 books and received awards from the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance.

This brave, talented woman is now the subject of a documentary film "Ahead of Time," which chronicles her amazing life. Gruber's story reminds us all that age is just a number, compassion can be more than a virtue, and hard work can be the most rewarding rejuvenation tonic ever.

Looking forward to your comments...


  1. Wow. This gal is my kind of woman. Talk about a journalist's role model!

  2. I wrote a blog entry about Dr. Ruth Gruber as well. This summer she was at the International Center of Photography where her documentary 'A Head of Time' played in front of an audience and Ruth was front and center