Ruth Anna Putnam

b. 1927

Born in Berlin, Germany, on September 20, 1927, to a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, Ruth Anna Putnam did not grow up in a religious household.  Her parents were active in the anti-fascist underground, and after Hitler came to power, she was sent to live with her grandparents while her parents went into hiding.  In 1948, Ruth emigrated to the United States, reuniting with her parents on the West Coast.  Ruth graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a degree in chemistry in 1954.  She became interested in the Philosophy of Science and earned her PhD in Philosophy from UCLA in 1962.  She married Hilary Putnam, a philosopher and computer scientist, that same year.  In 1963, Ruth came to Wellesley College as a professor of philosophy and taught for thirty years, serving as chair from 1979–1982 and 1990–1993.  Though Ruth and Hilary were brought up by atheist parents, they decided to raise their children in the Jewish religion.  Ruth celebrated her bat mitzvah in 1998.  In 2019, Ruth passed away from complications from Parkinson's disease.

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Scope and Content Note

American philosopher Ruth Anna Putnam discusses her experience with her adult bat mitzvah in this interview.  She shares her memories of Kristallnacht and the fear she and her Jewish friends experienced living in Germany during Nazi rule.  Her parents eventually left Germany for America, and in 1948 at the age of twenty-one, she joined them.  Ruth describes how her son's interest in a bar mitzvah led her and her husband to attend synagogue services.  She talks about the evolution of her personal relationship with Judaism, including her various roles in the synagogue, her years as a gabbai, and her observance of mitzvot like Shabbat and Kashrut.  She had an adult bat mitzvah at the age of seventy, and she discusses the process of preparing for the ceremony and the significance of the milestone.  Other topics covered include her experiences studying philosophy, attending the Hartman Institute's philosophy conferences and synagogue in Israel, and her involvement with Harvard Hillel. 


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How to cite this page

Oral History of Ruth Anna Putnam. Interviewed by Shayna Rhodes. 20 December 2004. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 22, 2024) <>.

Oral History of Ruth Anna Putnam by the Jewish Women's Archive is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at