Ruth Westheimer

Ruth Westheimer, Ed.D (born Karola Ruth Siegel on June 4, 1928) is an American sex therapist and author. She is best known as Dr. Ruth.


Westheimer was born in Frankfurt, Germany, to a Jewish family. In 1939 she was sent to Switzerland. In 1945, Westheimer learned that her parents had perished in the Holocaust, most likely at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Ruth decided to immigrate to the British Mandate of Palestine where she joined the Haganah in Jerusalem. Despite her diminutive height of 4 feet 7 inches, she was trained as a scout and sharpshooter. Westheimer was seriously wounded in action by an exploding shell during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and it was several months before she was able to walk again.

In 1950, she moved to France, where she studied and taught psychology at the University of Paris. In 1956, she emigrated to the Washington Heights, New York City. She earned a master's in sociology from Columbia University and an Ed.D. from Teachers College, Columbia University. She completed post-doctoral work in human sexuality at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is multilingual, speaking English, German, French and Hebrew.

In 1980 WYNY FM was NBC Radio's New York City owned and operated station. A struggling Adult Contemporary station which had recently gone through a make over in an attempt to build an audience. Part of this rebuild was adding specialized talk shows to the evening and weekend hours. Maurice Tunick was recruited from New York's leading talk station, WOR where he was talk show producer. As WYNY's Program Coordinator he was responsible for developing new talk shows.

Betty Elam was WYNY's Community Affairs Manager. Her job was to work closely with community groups and the station's public affairs programming. Betty was one of dozens of radio station Community Affairs managers attending the NYMRAD ascertainment day which had Dr. Westheimer as a speaker, and came back raving about her.

Betty was taken in by Dr. Ruth's passion, information, sense of humor and personality and suggested that WYNY ought to do something with her. Dr. Ruth was invited to be a guest on a taped Sunday morning public affairs program twice. Following that, WYNY's General Manager, Dan Griffin suggested Maurice find a way to develop a public affairs show for her.

Maurice was given Sunday night at midnight for 15 minutes. Being a novice in radio, Ruth thought it would be a good idea to have guests covering urology, neurology, gynecology, etc. — all areas which could have an effect on sex. While that would be important, Tunick thought a better show would be to not have guests at all but to have Ruth answer listeners questions directly. NBC was reluctant to allow live phone calls for a sex advice show, which was considered very risqué in the early 1980s, but Tunick suggested soliciting questions via mail a way for her to give advice. By people submitting their questions, Ruth could control the questions and read them on the air with her answers. Typically Ruth would begin each question with, "I have a letter from a listener who asks..."

The show, Sexually Speaking, was taped in an NBC Radio studio at 30 Rockefeller Center, NBC's radio and TV headquarters on Thursday mornings at 11:00 a.m. for airing on Sunday nights at midnight. All NBC studios at 30 Rock were accessible from other studios and many offices around the building. You could tune in any studio and hear what was being aired or recorded. A couple of weeks into recording, Ruth's show had a real buzz throughout the building. It was soon reported that work was stopping in many places in the building on Thursdays at 11 as people were gathering to hear this "cross between Henry Kissinger and Minnie Mouse," as the Wall Street Journal would later describe her.

Just two months after being turned down for a live show it was decided that she could go live for an hour taking phone calls (with a delay). Within a year Dr. Ruth had a larger audience on Sunday night at midnight on this struggling New York station than many NY stations had in morning drive.

Dr. Ruth became nationally known after several appearances on "Late Night with David Letterman" in the early 1980's.

Less than two years from the ascertainment day, Dr. Ruth became a household name and was being heard on radio stations across the country.

Her pioneering TV show, also called Sexually Speaking, first aired in 1982 as a 15-minute taped show on Lifetime Cable. It has since increased in popularity and has been nationally syndicated, as has her radio show. She is known to be candid and funny, but respectful.

In recent years, she has made regular appearances on the PBS Television children's show Between the Lions as "Dr. Ruth Wordheimer" in a parody of her therapist role, in which she helps anxious readers and spellers overcome their fear of long words.

Westheimer has written several books on human sexuality including ''Dr. Ruth's Encyclopedia of Sex and Sex ...for Dummies''. She has taught as lecturer and professor at Princeton University and New York University and led a recent seminar on the Jewish Family at Yale University.

She has been married three times. Her third marriage, to Manfred Westheimer, lasted until his death in 1997. She has two children, Miriam and Joel, and several grandchildren.

Popular culture

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