Oswald was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 18, 1939, to Robert Edward Lee Oswald, Sr. (1896–1939) and Marguerite Frances Claverie (1907–1981). Robert Oswald was a distant cousin of Confederate general Robert E. Lee and served in the Marines during World War I. Robert died of a heart attack two months before Lee was born. Lee's elder brother Robert, Jr. (1934–2017) was also a former Marine. Through Marguerite's first marriage to Edward John Pic, Jr., Lee and Robert Jr. were the half-brothers of Air Force veteran John Edward Pic (1932–2000).
In 1944, Marguerite moved the family from New Orleans to Dallas, Texas. Oswald entered the first grade in 1945 and over the next half-dozen years attended several different schools in the Dallas and Fort Worth areas through the sixth grade. Oswald took an IQ test in the fourth grade and scored 103; "on achievement tests in [grades 4 to 6], he twice did best in reading and twice did worst in spelling."
As a child, Oswald was described as withdrawn and temperamental by several people who knew him. When Oswald was 12 in August 1952, his mother took him to New York City where they lived for a short time with Oswald's half-brother, John. Oswald and his mother were later asked to leave after an argument in which Oswald allegedly struck his mother and threatened John's wife with a pocket knife.
Oswald attended seventh grade in the Bronx, New York, but was often truant, which led to a psychiatric assessment at a juvenile reformatory. The reformatory psychiatrist, Dr. Renatus Hartogs, described Oswald as immersed in a "vivid fantasy life, turning around the topics of omnipotence and power, through which [Oswald] tries to compensate for his present shortcomings and frustrations". Dr. Hartogs detected a "personality pattern disturbance with schizoid features and passive-aggressive tendencies" and recommended continued treatment.
In January 1954, Marguerite returned to New Orleans and took Lee with her. At the time, there was a question pending before a New York judge as to whether Oswald should be removed from the care of his mother to finish his schooling,
although Oswald's behavior appeared to improve during his last months in New York.
Oswald completed the eighth and ninth grades in New Orleans. He entered the 10th grade in 1955 but quit school after one month. After leaving school, Oswald worked for several months as an office clerk and messenger in New Orleans. In July 1956, Oswald's mother moved the family to Fort Worth, Texas, and Oswald re-enrolled in the 10th grade for the September session at Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth. A few weeks later in October, Oswald quit school at age 17 to join the Marines (see below); he never earned a high school diploma. By this point, he had resided at 22 locations and attended 12 schools.[n 2]
Though Oswald had trouble spelling in his youth and may have had a "reading-spelling disability", he read voraciously. By age 15, he considered himself a Marxist according to his diary: "I was looking for a key to my environment, and then I discovered socialist literature. I had to dig for my books in the back dusty shelves of libraries." At 16 he wrote to the Socialist Party of America for information on their Young People's Socialist League, saying he had been studying socialist principles for "well over fifteen months".
However, Edward Voebel, "whom the Warren Commission had established was Oswald's closest friend during his teenage years in New Orleans ... said that reports that Oswald was already 'studying Communism' were a 'lot of baloney.' " Voebel said that "Oswald commonly read 'paperback trash.'"
As a teenager in 1955, Oswald attended Civil Air Patrol meetings in New Orleans. Fellow cadets recalled him attending C.A.P. meetings "three or four" times, or "10 or 12 times" over a one- or two-month period.