Born July 10, 1891 in Sinclairville, New York, Rexford Guy Tugwell was the son of Dessie Rexford and Charles Tugwell. An only child for a good part of his youth, Tugwell grew up in a loving environment provided by his parents. His mother instilled in him a love of learning, reading, and nature while his father, a fairly prosperous businessman, taught him about business, profits, and laborers first hand. Growing up in a small town like Sinclairville and later Wilson, New York, Tugwell would always be attracted to the simplicity of small town life while simultaneously criticizing its glaring deficiencies in providing its citizens with opportunities to adapt to the modern world.
As a child, Tugwell suffered with asthma, thereby limiting his athletic inclinations. To compensate for that, he read avidly, a habit he nurtured throughout his long life. Bored with the formal education offered by the public schools he attended, he did as little as possible to pass his exams and keep his parents and teachers content. Reading, life experiences, and observing what was going on around him were more important means of learning in his thinking. By age 11, he began to apply himself more readily to a developing occupation with writing, another characteristic he nursed throughout his 88 years. Although done secretly at first, Tugwell started to display this talent as a newspaper reporter for the Niagara Falls Gazette. In 1909 after only 2 weeks at a military school in Virginia, the young adolescent decided to go to Masten High in Buffalo, New York. There, he met new people, experienced what it was like to live in a city, and decided he needed to go on to further his education. In 1911, he did just that when he enrolled in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
At the Wharton School, Tugwell met a number of individuals who influenced him greatly. Scott Nearing and Simon Nelson Patten both affected his growing concerns about the American economic and business