Ruth Gruber: Photojournalist and Humanitarian
March 12, 2021
Ruth Gruber (1911-2016) was a photojournalist who took some of the earliest color photographs of Alaska in the early 1940s when she served as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Gruber was the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants who grew up in Brooklyn. She started college at New York University at 15, had a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin Madison at 19 and became the world’s youngest Ph.D. at 20 with a degree from the University of Cologne in Germany.
After receiving her Ph.D., Gruber returned to New York but struggled to find work as a writer. Instead, she worked as a translator for Canadian Vilhjalmur Stefansson, an Arctic explorer (see our previous post on Ada Blackjack to learn more about the ill-fated Wrangel Island expedition). Gruber’s work with Steffanson led her to become the first foreign correspondent to travel to the Soviet Arctic and the Siberian gulags.
Following publication of her book, I Went to the Soviet Arctic, President Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, hired Gruber to report on conditions in the Alaska Territory, including its potential for World War II veterans to homestead. After 18 months in Alaska, Gruber helped bring nearly 1,000 Jewish refugees secretly from Europe to New York by boat in 1944. A few years later, Gruber photographed the harrowing voyage of Exodus 1947, a ship with 4,500 Jewish refugees that passed through a British blockade to arrive in Palestine.
The Alaska legislature recognized Gruber’s contributions to the state with a proclamation presented to her in a ceremony in New York City in 2009.
Image credit: Lysanzia at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons