Ruth Simpson was raised in Cleveland, OH by her parents Ethel and Edward Simpson, who were pioneers in the labor movement. She graduated from Case Western Reserve University in 1947 with a degree in drama and English. After moving to New York City in 1970 Simpson became president of the New York chapter of DOB, around the same time she came out publicly as a lesbian. During her time at DOB Simpson established one of the first lesbian community centers in the United States. She later authored the book From the Closet to the Courts, which deals with lesbian life and activism.
Simpson and her partner of 37 years, Ellen Povill, met at DOB and moved to Woodstock, NY in 1976. She helped organize Woodstock's first gay group and launched a human rights ordinance drive in the town. After becoming a library trustee, Simpson began teaching a seniors’ writing workshop in Woodstock. In 1982, she started producing a weekly public cable talk show on politics called "Minority Report," taping the last show the week before she died in 2008 at the age of 82.