John Rawls was born on February 21, 1921, and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. His father William Lee Rawls was a prominent lawyer, his mother Anna Abel Stump Rawls was a chapter president of the League of Women Voters.
Although his family was of comfortable means, his youth was twice marked by tragedy. In two successive years, his two younger brothers contracted an infectious disease from him - diphtheria in one case and pneumonia in the other - and died. Rawls’s vivid sense of the arbitrariness of fortune may have stemmed in part from this early experience. His remaining, older brother attended Princeton for undergraduate studies and was a great athlete.