Ruth Westheimer

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Ruth Westheimer
Ruth Westheimer (10877).jpg
Westheimer in 2018
Karola Ruth Siegel

(1928-06-04) June 4, 1928 (age 93)
Other namesDr. Ruth
CitizenshipGermany (1928–1941, 2007–present)
United States (1965–present)
EducationUniversity of Paris (BA)
New School (MA)
Columbia University (EdD)
Spouse(s)Two previous marriages
Manfred Westheimer
(m. 1961; died 1997)
Children2, including Joel
Military career
Allegiance Israel
Service/branchHaganah Symbol.svg Haganah
Years of service1946–1949
Battles/wars1948 Arab–Israeli War Edit this at Wikidata

Karola Ruth Westheimer (née Siegel; born June 4, 1928), better known as Dr. Ruth, is a German-American sex therapist, media personality, author, talk show host, and Holocaust survivor. Her media career began in 1980 with the radio show Sexually Speaking, which continued until 1990. She has hosted several series on the Lifetime Channel and other cable television networks from 1984 to 1993 and is the author of 45 books on sex and sexuality.

Early life and education[edit]

Westheimer was born Karola Ruth Siegel on June 4, 1928, in Wiesenfeld (now part of Karlstadt am Main), Germany, the only child of Orthodox Jews, Irma (née Hanauer), a housekeeper, and Julius Siegel, a notions wholesaler and son of the family for whom Irma worked.[1] She was given an early grounding in Judaism by her father, who took her regularly to the synagogue in the Nordend district of Frankfurt, where they lived. Her father was taken away by the Nazis a week after Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, in 1938. Westheimer cried while her father was taken away by men in gloss-finished boots, while her grandmother gave the men money and asked them to care for him. Westheimer's mother and grandmother decided that Germany was too dangerous due to the tension and Nazi violence growing, so in January 1939 they sent Westheimer on the Kindertransport to Switzerland. Westheimer, age 10, arrived at an orphanage of a Jewish charity in Heiden and took on the role of a caregiver and mother-like figure to the younger children there. Westheimer was not allowed to take classes at the local school, but a fellow orphan boy would sneak his textbooks to Westheimer at night so she could learn and continue her education.

While at the orphanage, Westheimer corresponded with her mother and grandmother via letters. When the letters ceased in 1941, Westheimer knew she would not hear from them again. The details of her parents' deaths due to the Holocaust are also included in the Hulu documentary about Westheimer titled Ask Dr. Ruth. Her father was murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942. Her mother was killed during the Holocaust, but there is no specific information about her death. In the data base at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Westheimer's mother is categorized by the word verschollen or 'disappeared.'

Westheimer decided to immigrate to British-controlled Mandatory Palestine. There, at 17, she "first had sexual intercourse on a starry night, in a haystack, without contraception." She later told The New York Times that "I am not happy about that, but I know much better now and so does everyone who listens to my radio program."[2] Westheimer joined the Haganah in Jerusalem. Because of her diminutive height of 4 ft 7 in (1.40 m),[2] she was trained as a scout and sniper.[3] Of this experience, she said, "I never killed anybody, but I know how to throw hand grenades and shoot."[4] In 1948, Westheimer was seriously wounded in action by an exploding shell during the 1947–1949 Palestine war, and it was several months before she was able to walk again.[5][6]

In 1950, Westheimer moved to France, where she studied and then taught psychology at the University of Paris. In 1956, she immigrated to the United States, settling in Washington Heights, Manhattan.[7][8] Westheimer earned an M.A. degree in sociology from The New School in 1959[9] and an Ed.D. degree from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1970.[10]

Westheimer became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1965.[11] She regained her German citizenship in 2007 through the German Citizenship Project that enabled descendants of Germans deprived of their citizenship during Nazi rule to reclaim their citizenship without losing the citizenship of their home country.[12][13]

Early career[edit]

After receiving her Ed.D., she briefly worked for Planned Parenthood and this experience encouraged her to continue studying human sexuality. She went on to work as a postdoctoral researcher for Helen Singer Kaplan at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.[5] She continued to work there as an adjunct associate professor for five years. She also taught at Lehman College, Brooklyn College, Adelphi University, Columbia University and West Point.[14]

Media career[edit]

Dr. Ruth's media career began in 1980 when her radio show, Sexually Speaking, debuted on WYNY-FM in New York City.[15] She was offered this opportunity after she gave a lecture to New York broadcasters about the need for sex education programming to help deal with issues of contraception and unwanted pregnancies. Betty Elam, the community affairs manager at WYNY, was impressed with her talk and offered Westheimer $25 per week to make Sexually Speaking, which started as a 15-minute show airing every Sunday at midnight.[16] By 1983 her show was the top-rated radio show in the area, and in 1984 NBC Radio began syndicating it nationwide as the Dr. Ruth Show. She went on to produce her radio show until 1990.[17] Described as the "Sister Wendy of Sexuality", Dr. Ruth helped to revolutionize talk about sex and sexuality on radio and television, and she was noted for having "an accent only a psychologist could love".[18] She became known for being candid and funny, but respectful, and for her tag phrase "Get some".[19][20] One journalist described her unique voice as "a cross between Henry Kissinger and Minnie Mouse".[21]

In 1984, Westheimer began hosting several television programs on the Lifetime TV network and one in syndication. Her first show was Good Sex! With Dr. Ruth Westheimer, airing for a half hour at 10 pm on weeknights. This show was expanded in 1985 to a full hour and its name was changed to The Dr. Ruth Show. In 1987 she began a separate half hour syndicated series on many broadcast stations called Ask Dr. Ruth which was co-hosted by Larry Angelo. Dr. Ruth returned to the Lifetime network in 1988 with The All New Dr. Ruth Show, which was followed in 1989 by two teen advice shows called What's Up, Dr. Ruth? and a call-in show, You're on the Air with Dr. Ruth in 1990.[22] In 1993 Westheimer and Israeli TV host, Arad Nir, hosted a talk show in Hebrew titled Min Tochnit, on the newly opened Israeli Channel 2. The show was similar to her US Sexually Speaking show. The name of the show, Min Tochnit, is a play on words: literally "Kind of a program", but "Min" (מין) in Hebrew also means "sex" and "gender".[23]

Westheimer in 1988

During the 1980s "Dr. Ruth" became a household name; she made guest appearances on several network television shows, including The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Late Night with David Letterman.[24] She also made frequent appearances on the syndicated revival of Hollywood Squares that ran from 1986 to 1989. In the 1990s Westheimer appeared as herself in episode 89 of Quantum Leap, the episode title being "Dr. Ruth". She appeared on Tom Chapin's album This Pretty Planet, in the song "Two Kinds of Seagulls", in which she and Chapin sing of various animals that reproduce sexually. "It takes two to tingle" says the song. Dr. Ruth also appeared in several commercial advertisements, including a 1994 Honda Prelude ad and an ad for Clairol Herbal Essences shampoo and body wash.[25][26] Two computer games based on Dr. Ruth's work have been released; Dr. Ruth's Computer Game of Good Sex was released in 1986 for the Commodore 64, DOS,[27][28] and Apple II,[29] and in 1994, she appeared in an interactive CD-ROM adaptation of Dr. Ruth's Encyclopedia of Sex released for Windows[30][31] and the Phillips CD-i.[32]

Between 2001 and 2007, Westheimer made regular appearances on the PBS children's television series Between the Lions as "Dr. Ruth Wordheimer" in a spoof of her therapist role in which she helps anxious readers and spellers overcome their fear of long words. In January 2009, the 55th anniversary issue of Playboy magazine included Westheimer as #13 in a list of the 55 most important people in sex from the past 55 years.[33] In October 2013 the play Becoming Dr. Ruth opened Off Broadway. Actress Debra Jo Rupp played the role of Dr. Ruth. The play showcased the sex therapist's life from fleeing the Nazis in the Kindertransport and joining the Haganah in Jerusalem as a scout and sniper, to her struggles to succeed as a single mother coming to America.[34] Eileen DeSandre played Dr. Ruth in the Virginia Repertory Theatre production of Becoming Dr. Ruth.[35]

Westheimer has delivered commencement speeches at the Hebrew Union College seminary, Lehman College of the City University of New York and, in 2004, at Trinity College, where she has been awarded honorary degrees.[36][14] She also taught courses and seminars at Princeton and Yale,[36] and was the guest speaker at the Bronx High School of Science in New York in commemoration of Yom HaShoah 2008. Westheimer spoke about her life story and the audience of 500 sang "Happy Birthday" in honor of her 80th birthday. At the ceremony she received an honorary Bronx High School of Science diploma. In 2002, she received the Leo Baeck Medal for her humanitarian work promoting tolerance and social justice.[14]

In the 1980s and 1990s, Westheimer was a frequent guest on late-night talk shows like The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman. She also appeared on talk shows on German television. In 2019, she was a guest on The View, The Today Show and Late Night with Seth Meyers.[37]

Westheimer is an accomplished ethnographer. Her studies in this field include the Ethiopian Jews, Papua New Guinea's Trobriand Islanders, and the Druze, a sect originating from Shia Islam now residing in Israel, Syria and Lebanon. The latter were the subject of her 2007 PBS documentary The Olive and the Tree: The Secret Strength of the Druze and a book of the same title.[38][39]

Westheimer is a trustee of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.[40]

A documentary about her life, Ask Dr. Ruth, premiered in U.S. theaters on May 3, 2019, and was released on Hulu on June 1, 2019.

Having previously avoided discussing her early years and how the Holocaust affected her family and herself, Westheimer believes that current events make it necessary for her to "stand up and be counted." She stated that seeing child refugees being separated from their parents upsets her, because her own story is reflected in what they are going through.[41]

Westheimer continues to be an active figure. In addition to the documentary released about her in 2019, she recently published her 45th book. On her 91st birthday (June 4, 2019), Westheimer visited The Ellen DeGeneres Show,[42] and visited Ellen's show again in November 2019, taking questions from the audience.[43] In 2019 alone, Westheimer has appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers,[44] The View,[45] and Strahan, Sara and Keke.[46]

Personal life[edit]

Westheimer in 2009

Westheimer has been married three times.[6] She said each of her marriages played an important role in her relationship advice, but after two divorces, it was her third marriage, to Manfred 'Fred' Westheimer, that was the "real marriage".[4] She met Fred on a skiing trip in the Catskills. Fred, too, had escaped Nazi Germany.[47] Their marriage lasted until his death in 1997. She has two children, Miriam and Joel, and four grandchildren.[4][14]

In December 2014, Westheimer was a guest at an Orthodox Jewish wedding in the Bronx. The groom, Rabbi Benjamin Goldschmidt, is the great-grandson of the woman who had helped rescue Westheimer from Nazi Germany.[48]

She still lives in the "cluttered three-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights where she raised her two children and became famous, in that order,"[49][50] to be near the two synagogues of which she is a member, the YMHA of which she was president for three years, and a "still sizable community of German Jewish World War II refugees."[7] She speaks English, German, French, and Hebrew.




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  7. ^ a b Morris, Bob (December 21, 1995). "At Home With: Dr. Ruth Westheimer; The Bible as Sex Manual?". The New York Times. Retrieved September 21, 2021.
  8. ^ "America's Significant Other: Dr. Ruth (1991)" OpenMind 1991.
  9. ^ Administrator. "All About Dr. Ruth".
  10. ^ Kaufman, Joanne (November 29, 2013). "Dr. Ruth Westheimer: Her Bedrooms Are Off Limits". The New York Times. Retrieved July 30, 2015. "I wanted it badly because of the view," said the radio and television sex therapist and author who's known simply as Dr. Ruth (the honorific comes courtesy of her Ph.D. in education).
  11. ^ Katz, Mallory M. (March 20, 2017). "10 Women Immigrants Who Changed Art, Thought, and Politics in the U.S." Huffington Post. Retrieved March 25, 2017.
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  15. ^ Sterling, Christopher H. (2011). Biographical Encyclopedia of American Radio. New York City: Routledge. p. 423. ISBN 978-0-415-99549-8. Retrieved March 25, 2017.
  16. ^ Staff Writers. "Dr. Ruth Westheimer Biography". Retrieved March 25, 2017.
  17. ^ "Interview with Dr. Ruth Westheimer". Retrieved March 25, 2017.
  18. ^ Barron, James (December 13, 1998). "ART/ARCHITECTURE; Some Things Never Age. Just Ask Dr. Ruth". New York Times. Retrieved March 25, 2017.
  19. ^ Kahn, Joseph P. (April 7, 2011). "A sex expert for the ages". Boston Globe. Retrieved March 25, 2017.
  20. ^ Griset, Rich (September 23, 2014). "Moment of Ruth". Style Weekly. Retrieved March 25, 2017.
  21. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (June 21, 2012). "Audiences Can Now Analyze Dr. Ruth". New York Times. Retrieved March 25, 2017.
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  24. ^ Wolf, Michelle Andrea; Kielwasser, Aldred P. (1991). Gay People, Sex, and the Media. New York City; London: The Haworth Press. p. 142. ISBN 0-86656-936-7.
  25. ^ "Dr. Ruth pilots Prelude ad". Advertising Age. 65 (42): 45. October 1994. Archived from the original on March 25, 2013. Retrieved March 25, 2017.
  26. ^ "Clairol Herbal Essences – Dr. Ruth (1990)". Retrieved March 25, 2017.
  27. ^ "Different Track - Computer Sex Clinic". 80 Micro. CW Communications. March 1987. p. 127. ISSN 0744-7868.
  28. ^ Katz, Arnie; Kunkel, Bill (March 1987). "Fun For All - Multiplayer Games for the Commodore 64/128". Ahoy!. No. 39. Ion International. pp. 41, 44. ISSN 8750-4383.
  29. ^ "Avalon Hill Classics - Microcomputer Games Software magazine advertisement". The General. Vol. 26 no. 6. Avalon Hill. 1990. p. 55. ISSN 0888-1081.
  30. ^ Meyer, Bill (November 1994). "Ask Dr. Ruth". Electronic Entertainment. IDG Communications. p. 10. ISSN 1074-1356.
  31. ^ "Dr. Ruth's Encyclopedia of Sex". PC/Computing. Vol. 8 no. 2. Ziff Davis. February 1995. p. 332. ISSN 0899-1847.
  32. ^ Paul, Fredric (April 1994). "Coming Soon to CD-i". Electronic Entertainment. IDG Communications. p. 67. ISSN 1074-1356.
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  34. ^ Rooney, David (October 29, 2013). "The Sex Therapist's Story, From Calamity to Cliché". New York Times. Retrieved March 25, 2017.
  35. ^ Wren, Celia (September 13, 2014). "Virginia Rep production brings Dr. Ruth, and her story, to Richmond". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved March 25, 2017.
  36. ^ a b Gordon, Jane (May 9, 2004). "WORTH NOTING; Calling Dr. Ruth (To Speak at Trinity)". New York Times. Retrieved March 25, 2017.
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  38. ^ Treiman, Daniel (May 25, 2007). "Dr. Ruth's Other Interest: Ethnography". The Forward. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  39. ^ Westheimer, Ruth; Sedan, Gil (2007). The Olive and the Tree: The Secret Strength of the Druze. New York City: Lantern Books. ISBN 978-1-59056-102-7. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  40. ^ "Bruce Ratner And Dr. Ruth Westheimer Preview "Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away."". Museum of Jewish Heritage. April 25, 2019. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  41. ^ "In 'Ask Dr. Ruth,' The Famous Sex Therapist Looks Inward At Last". NPR. May 4, 2019. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
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  44. ^ "Dr. Ruth Westheimer Gave Advice About a Sex Position on Twitter". YouTube.
  45. ^ "Dr. Ruth on why she's concerned about millennials' 'loneliness' and answers sex questions". YouTube.
  46. ^ "Dr. Ruth Answers Your Sex Questions". YouTube.
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  50. ^ Salisbury, Vanita (November 27, 2013). "Dr. Ruth Has Seen the Play About Her Life More Than Fifteen Times". New York. Retrieved July 30, 2015.

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