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Arndt, Ruth (1915–2001)

by Marcus Faunce

Ruth Strohsahl was born in Cuxhaven (northwest Germany) on 20 March 1915. She enjoyed an active healthy childhood and teen years in this busy fishing, naval and shipbuilding town at the mouth of the river Elbe where it meets the North Sea. This was a time in Germany that was soon to feel the approach of Nazism.

On 27 February 1933 the Reichstag in Berlin was burned—probably intentionally by the Nazis themselves—and all hell was let loose as the Nazis stampeded to power. Even at this early age (she was then 17) Ruth demonstrated courage, independence of thought and boldness of action; she refused to give the Nazi salute at school and frequently spoke up in criticism of the forceful attempts at brainwashing by the teachers.

Family and friends, as well as Ruth herself, could see the danger she was in—and it was decided that she should leave for England.

She found a welcoming haven in the home of the Brownes, who lived near Reading in Berkshire. They introduced her to the English way of life and to a fuller grasp of the language.

By examination she obtained a bursary to enter Edinburgh University. At this time, Ruth had been noticed as a brilliant student with great potential by Miss Marjory Rackstraw, Warden of Masson Hall, a women's hostel at Edinburgh University. With Miss Rackstraw's help and influence, Ruth soon found herself in possession of a scholarship to London University's famous School of Economics (LSE). At LSE, Ruth studied sociology and obtained an Honours degree.

Again with the help of Miss Rackstraw, she obtained British citizenship. At a party in Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, she met Heinz Arndt, who had studied at Oxford but now had a postgraduate scholarship at LSE.

The exams over, Ruth left Cambridge and went to London to do some "hands on" activity as a volunteer social worker in the city. There was great need for such trained people at the time. Thus she became a fully qualified social worker.

The Arndts were married on 12 July 1941. Ruth's career as social worker had to go on temporary hold while they searched for accommodation and settled into married life.

They came to Australia in 1947 when he accepted a position as a senior lecturer in Sydney University's Economics Department.

They spent four years in Sydney, then moved to Canberra when the late Professor "Joe" Burton, Principal of the Canberra University College, offered him the Chair in Economics. He was appointed (at the same time as Alec Hope to the Chair in English) on 1 January 1951.

It was in Canberra that Ruth was able to give real expression to her first-class skill and vocation for helping fellow human beings. This she managed to do despite her obligations as housewife and mother, domestic support for a busy academic and three very active children. Her particular concern was to help "New Australians", refugees and other immigrants from Europe.

She was a woman of boundless energy and she gave to Canberra and its people all she could spare—and more—right up to her death. Ruth knew the great value of having easily accessible, voluntary adult education organisations, like the WEA in England. In Canberra, the Arndts started a Department of Adult Education at ANU.

She taught German and Economics at the Boys' and Girls' Grammar Schools and was a research officer in the department of External Affairs. She was on the Governing Board of the ANU's new residential college, Bruce Hall. From 1969 until 1975 she was an elected member of the ANU Council. She was president of the "Ladies Drawing Room" in 1982, following her friend, Molly Huxley.

In a condolence letter, ANU Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Chubb, lists her significant contributions to the University.

"Her influence on the University was profound, not only as a result of her own direct participation in University affairs, but also through her role as the supportive spouse of a distinguished member of the academic staff and mother of three of our alumni and of a currently serving member of the University Council."

She was a prolific correspondent, cutting clippings from newspapers and sending them, with letters, to recipients around the globe.

Ruth's life was not all work. There was plenty of fun—it was a happy household, with a vigorous social life. She and Heinz raised three bright children who graduated with science degrees from the ANU. They all have had successful careers—and Ruth was proud of them.

The Arndts had a wide circle of friends and a particular interest in the Canberra Repertory Society. Finally I should mention the Ladies Reading Group, to which Ruth was passionately devoted in recent years.

She loved reading, corresponded with authors, wrote book reviews, but probably just as much, she enjoyed the discussions with her friends.

Ruth died on 20 March, her 86th birthday. She is survived by Heinz (her husband of 60 years), children Chris, Nick and Bettina and nine grandchildren.

Original publication

Citation details

Marcus Faunce, 'Arndt, Ruth (1915–2001)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/arndt-ruth-35/text35, accessed 16 June 2019.

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