Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also known by her initials RBG, fought for equality through her entire 87 years on earth and continued to do so up until her last breath.
America has lost a women’s rights hero.
Born in New York City to a father who was a Jewish immigrant from the Ukraine and a mother whose parents were Jewish immigrants from Austria themselves, Ginsburg’s life began with challenges from the onset. Her older sister died of meningitis only 14 months after Ginsburg was born. She was raised during the Great Depression and spent her childhood in the shadows of World War II.
Ginsburg’s mother prioritized RBG’s education, wanting her daughter to have opportunities that she was unable to obtain. During RBG’s high school years, Ginsburg’s mother struggled with cancer and passed away the day before she graduated. After high school, she attended Cornell where she met her future husband, Martin D Ginsburg, at 17 years old. She would later share that he was the only young man she ever dated who cared that she had a brain. They married a month after she graduated from Cornell with a Bachelor of Arts degree in government.
Not long after her graduation from Cornell, her husband was called up for military service. They reported to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he was stationed as a Reserve Officers Training Corps officer in the Army. She was able to work for the Social Security Administration – until she was demoted because she was pregnant.
After RBG’s husband finished his service to the Army, they made the decision to go into law together – since that was one career Ginsburg wasn’t barred from entering. They both enrolled at Harvard Law School, where Ginsburg was one of only nine women in a class of 500. She reported that the dean once called all the women to come to a dinner at his home where he asked them why they were there; why they were taking spots men could be holding. Despite becoming editor of the coveted Harvard Law Review and finishing her education at Columbia, it was difficult for Ginsburg to gain employment following graduation.
She shared that many offices put signs in their windows stating “men only.” In one interview, she shared that she had three strikes against her: she was Jewish, a woman and a mother. Ginsburg was rejected often because of her gender.
Nevertheless, she persisted.
Ginsburg spent time in Sweden as a research associate for Columbia Law School. Her time there would influence her views on gender equality. When she took on a position at Rutgers Law School as a professor, she was told she would be paid less because she was a woman and had a husband who had a well-paying job himself. At the time, she was only one of around 20 female law professors in America.
In 1972, RBG co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. With tenacious and steady work, she changed the landscape for women everywhere. Over the next 20 years, she slowly rose within the ranks and championed equal rights for all. In 1980, she was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Thirteen years later, she would be nominated for the highest court in the land.
Ginsburg was only the second female to hold a seat in the Supreme Court and the first Jewish female. From the moment she began her new role in 1993, she championed equality. In 2002, she was entered into the Women’s Hall of Fame. When Sandra Day O’Connor retired in 2006, RBG was the only woman left on the Court. It was here Ginsburg found her voice and began her powerful tradition of reading dissents from the bench.
Her devotion to the rule of law and her work was never more obvious than when she continued to serve through multiple cancer diagnoses. Although she lost her battle to pancreatic cancer at 87 years old on September 18, 2020, RBG’s legacy will leave an indelible, everlasting imprint on the lives she impacted through her service to this country.
About her legacy, Justice Ginsburg once said, “To make life a little better for people less fortunate than you, that’s what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for oneself but for one’s community.” From spending her life ensuring equality for women and men, those with disabilities and the LGBTQ community, RBG remains forever known as a hero and champion of equality for all.