#RespectYourElders: Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court and trailblazer for the advancement of women’s rights and countless other important issues. She was the second woman nominated to the Supreme Court and the first Jewish female justice. She passed away in September at the age of 87.
Ginsburg was born Joan Ruth Bader in Brooklyn, New York in 1933. Her father was a furrier and her mother worked in a garment factory. Her mother instilled the values of independence and a good education in her. Ginsburg attended James Madison High School in Brooklyn and excelled in her school work. Tragically, Ginsburg’s mother passed the day before her daughter’s graduation.
Ginsburg did not let this adversity get in the way of her academic success. She graduated top of her class in 1954 from Cornell University. While at Cornell, she met first-year law student Martin Ginsburg, and they married shortly after her graduation. Soon after their first child was born, her husband, an ROTC officer, was called up for military duty. Two years later, he was discharged and the couple enrolled together at Harvard University Law School.
Harvard hosted its own unique set of challenges for Ginsburg and her husband. She had to balance raising a child and learning in a male-dominated, hostile education environment. Ginsburg began attending class and taking notes for Martin while continuing her own education and raising Jane, while he battled his diagnosis of cancer. Ginsburg was one of nine women in a 500-person class. Despite the adversity, she became the first woman to serve on the Harvard Law Review. A few years later, Martin recovered, graduated, and accepted a position at a New York law firm. The family moved, and Ginsburg finished her law degree at Columbia University. While there, she served on the law review and finished first in her class.
Upon graduating, Ginsburg moved from job to job. She first worked as a law clerk in New York, then as a research associate and director for the Project of International Procedure at Columbia Law School, and then as a professor at Rutgers University School of Law. In the early seventies, Ginsburg returned to Columbia University School of Law to work as a professor, and on the general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. She directed and co-founded the Women’s Rights Project for the ACLU, fought against gender discrimination and argued six cases before the Supreme Court — she won five.
“Women’s rights are an essential part of the overall human rights agenda, trained on the equal dignity and ability to live in freedom all people should enjoy,” Ginsburg once said.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where she served until 1993 when President Bill Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court. Ginsburg presented a strong voice on gender equality, workers’ rights and the separation of church and state. She received the Thurgood Marshall Award in 1999 for her development and advancement of gender equality law.
Ginsburg worked tirelessly through the 2000s and 2010s, even as she fought several different forms of cancer. Her perseverance was well-recognized; the National Women’s Hall of Fame inducted her in and the American Bar Associations presented her with their highest honor the ABA medal.
In 2016, Ginsburg published “My Own Words,” a New York Times best-selling memoir. In 2018, RBG, the documentary on her life, was released to the world and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.
In the following two years, Ginsburg continued working on the Supreme Court while battling cancer and other health issues. On September 18th, she tragically passed away.
Her legacy and the impact she made on countless lives will live on forever. In a presentation at Harvard given a few years ago, she was asked what advice she would give young women today.
“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you,” Ginsburg said.