On October 28, 1921, in Braden, Oklahoma, Ruth Bluford Anderson, later a professor of social work at the University of Northern Iowa, was born to Roy Bluford and Josie Blocker Bluford. Anderson was the oldest of five children. Roy and Josie Bluford were Oklahoma sharecroppers who struggled to provide their family with the necessities of life. When Anderson was seven years old her father moved the family to Sioux City, Iowa, where he worked at Cudahy Packing Company.
In 1933 Roy and Josie Bluford were divorced. Anderson's mother worked part-time as a hotel maid but was forced to rely on public assistance to provide for her children. Anderson attributed her desire to be a public servant to the experience of growing up on public welfare.
Anderson received her bachelor's degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1946. In 1956, while working for the Westchester County Welfare Department of New York, she earned her master's degree in social work at Columbia University. After the end of her marriage to Everett McKinnis in 1959 Anderson moved to Waterloo, Iowa. Anderson worked for eight years at the Blackhawk County Department of Public Welfare before she began teaching in 1967 at Wartburg College. In 1969 she became a professor of social work at the University of Northern Iowa.Anderson's autobiography was published by the University of Iowa School of Social Work in 1985.
In 1965, Ruth Bluford Anderson was listed in Who's Who of American Women. She was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1982. In 1988, she was elected to the Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors, the first African-American woman to serve on a county board of supervisors in the state. In 1990, Ruth Bluford Anderson was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters from Simpson College.
Anderson was inducted into the Iowa African American Hall of Fame in 1996.