Inspiring women series : Ruth Bader Ginsburg

October 1, 2020

Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you - Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Inspiring Women series - Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Joan Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, New York City on March 15, 1933. Her older sister, Marylin, died at age six from meningitis when Ruth was 14 months old. When Ruth started school, her mother Celia noticed that there were several children named Joan, so to avoid confusion, suggested they call her Ruth.

Ruth's mother Celia took an active role in her daughters education, taking her to the library. Celia, a good student herself, graduated high school at age 15, but was unable to further her education because her family chose to send her brother to college instead. Her mother died from cancer the day before she graduated high school.

Bader attended Cornell University where she met Martin D. Ginsburg at age 17. She graduated from Cornell in 1953 with a bachelor of arts degree in government. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the highest ranking female student in her graduating class. She married Ginsburg a month after graduation. She and Martin moved to Oklahoma where he stationed in the US Army Reserve. At age 21, she worked for the Social Security Office in Oklahoma, where she was demoted after becoming pregnant with her first child. 


In 1956, Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School, where she was one of only 9 women in a class of about 500 men. The dean of Harvard Law reportedly invited all the female law students to dinner at his family home and asked why they were at Harvard Law School, taking the place of a man. When her husband took a job in New York City, Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School and became the first woman to be on two major law reviews: the Harvard Law Review and Columbia Law Review. In 1959, she earned her law degree at Columbia and tied for first in her class.

From 1961 to 1963, Ginsburg was a research associate and then an associate director of the Columbia Law School Project on International Procedure; she learned Swedish to co-author a book with Anders Bruzelius on civil procedure in Sweden. Ginsburg's time in Sweden also influenced her thinking on gender equality. She was inspired when she observed the changes in Sweden, where women were 20 to 25 percent of all law students; one of the judges whom Ginsburg observed for her research was eight months pregnant and still working.

In 1970, she co-founded the Women's Rights Law Reporter, the first law journal in the U.S. to focus exclusively on women's rights. From 1972 to 1980, she taught at Columbia Law School, becoming the first tenured woman and co-authored the first law school casebook on sex discrimination.

Congress passed the Omnibus Judgeship Act of 1978 increasing the number of federal judges by 117 in district courts and another 35 to be added to the circuit courts. The law placed an emphasis on ensuring that the judges included women and minority groups, a matter that was important to President Jimmy Carter who had been elected two years before. The bill also required that the nomination process consider the character and experience of the candidates. 

While at Stanford University, Ginsburg was working on a written account of her work in litigation and advocacy for equal rights. Her husband was at the same time working hard to promote a possible judgeship for his wife. In January 1979, she filled out the questionnaire for possible nominees to the court of appeals for the Second Circuit, and another for the District of Columbia Circuit. Ginsburg was nominated by President Carter on April 14, 1980, to a seat on the DC circuit appeals court.  She was confirmed on June 18, 1980.

  • President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on June 22, 1993
  • The retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in 2006 left Ginsburg as the only woman on the court
  • Ginsburg's first book, My own words was released October 4, 2016
  • Ginsburg had a collection of lace jabots from around the world. Her favorite jabot (woven with white beads) was from Cape Town, South Africa.

In 1999, Ginsburg was diagnosed with colon cancer, the first of her five[ bouts with cancer, she did not miss a day on the bench. Weakened by the cancer treatment, she began working with a personal trainer. Bryant Johnson, a former Army reservist, trained Ginsburg twice weekly in the justices-only gym at the Supreme Court. Her physical fitness improved after her first bout with cancer; she was able to complete twenty push-ups in a session before her 80th birthday. 

Ginsburg died from complications of pancreatic cancer on September 18, 2020, at age 87.

Information found on Wikipedia


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