Ruth was born and
raised near Chicago, and majored in biology at the University of Chicago,
graduating in 1938. She was then intensely involved in the Zionist movement,
worked on a Farm during World War II, and obtained an M.S. at Rutgers
in 1944. She received her Ph.D. with Marcus Rhoades at Columbia in 1949,
performed research at Rockefeller University, and then at Columbia.
Faculty appointments were rare for women at that time, so only in 1966
did she become Professor at Hunter College. In 1975 she was one of the
first woman Full Professors at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber
Ruth had two distinguished
research careers. First, in the face of universal skepticism she almost
alone established cytoplasmic (organelle) genetics. She constructed
the first genetic map of choroplast genes, found their DNA, and its
uniparental methylation as a basis for non-Mendelian inheritance. Her
final 25 years were devoted to investigations of genetics of cancer.
Among many major contributions, she developed cell lines suitable for
comparing normal and cancer cells, and championed the major role of
chromosomal rearrangements, accelerated evolution, requirement of more
than one mutation, and tumor suppressors in addition to oncogenes. She
proposed the field of 'expression genetics' and discovered numerous
novel genes whose expression is altered in cancers, such as maspin.
Ruth worked to the end, publishing important articles and obtaining
an NIH Grant in the month of her death. She was a wise and caring mentor
to many colleagues who continue to develop her research.
Ruth received numerous
honors including a Guggenheim Fellowship, memberships in the National
Academy of Sciences which gave her the Gilbert Morgan Smith Medal, the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine.
She was Alumna Medalist of the University of Chicago and received the
Princess Takamatsu (Japan), University of Liege (Belgium), and Australian
clinical oncology society's awards.
Ruth's interests beyond science included art, music, theater, tennis,
and much else. She had a strong personality, knew what she wanted and
usually got it. She was described in her fifties as "a calmly articulate
and attractive woman (who looks younger by about 15 years) …a
tall, striking brunette with a ready smile and a voice that carries
a merry lilt". She early described herself as a "probably
the happiest person I know".
Ruth died at 79
of bladder cancer. She is buried in Woods Hole where she had a beloved
summer home. The Ruth Sager Lectures in Cancer Research honor her memory.