Ruth Fulton was born in New York City in 1887. Her father died when she was only eighteen months old, so her mother moved the family around a lot. They traveled to Missouri and Minnesota before they found their home in Buffalo, New York in 1898. Ruth graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College and then left the United States to spend some time in Europe with some college friends. Then in 1910, Ruth was a social worker, and from 1911 to 1914 approximately, she was a teacher.
In 1914, Ruth married a biochemistry professor from Cornell Medical School named Stanley Benedict. After five years of marriage, Ruth began taking courses, first at Columbia University and then at the New School for Social Research. It was these courses that sparked her interest in anthropology, the study of the origin, behavior, and development of human beings. From 1925 to 1940, Ruth served as editor of the Journal of American Folk-Lore.
In 1948, Ruth became the first woman to be promoted to a full professor of the Faculty of Political Science. She traveled to California to learn from the Indians there, and researched the Serrano, Zuñi, Cochiti, and Pima. She also went to Arizona and researched the Mescalero Apache and also the northwest to study the Blackfoot. From her experiences, Ruth wrote three books: Tales of the Cochiti Indians was published in 1931, Patterns of Culture was published in 1934, and Zuñi Mythology appeared in 1935. It was Patterns of Culture however, that became a bestseller as it explained what "culture" really was to common people. She also wrote an essay on Mary Wollstonecraft, but it remained unpublished.
Ruth also traveled to Japan, and during World War II, Ruth helped out in the Office of War Information. It was from this experience that she wrote The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture in 1946. This, too, became a bestseller, and is still today a classic in the study of Japanese culture. She died on September 17, 1948, in her birthplace: New York City.