by Sophie St. Jacques
*Disclaimer: This article is not a political statement. It’s the story of a remarkable woman’s groundbreaking accomplishments.
Martin Ginsburg’s wife. That’s who Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or RGB, was known as and what she was called. She wasn’t acknowledged for being one of only nine women out of 522 men inducted into Harvard law, attending Harvard in only its 6th year of admitting women. . . Or as a brilliant student who was the top of her class. Nor was she recognized as the first woman to make both the Columbia and Harvard Law reviews. She was known simply as Martin Ginsburg’s wife.
Imagine a time – a time where women had to have a male co-signer to get a house, a car, or a credit card. While this seems absurd now, this was a woman’s reality a mere 46 years ago. This was a world where women were seen as wives and mothers, instead of potential doctors, lawyers, or leaders. And heaven help us all if a female wanted to be a politician. This world that seems ages ago is a world that our grandmothers remember and experienced. A world that our grandmothers experienced. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of some women in the United States securing the right to vote, we are also reminded of the contributions of Martin Ginsburg’s wife.
Before we discuss how Ruth Bader Ginsburg affected our lives in the present day, it’s important to learn about her life. During her life, Ruth witnessed the 1957 decision that gave women the right to serve on a federal jury. It took 16 years for all states to have laws that allowed women on juries, overcoming the assumptions that women would be ineligible because they have children to take care of, husbands’ meals to make, or are unable to simply understand the details of a case. She was born into a hard-working, lower-middle class Jewish family, raised in a household where she was taught that she was not less than a man. Her mother was forced to drop out of high school, as her parents thought it unnecessary to attend school when she could be working and bringing in money, while her brother continued his education. As a result of this, Ruth’s mother wanted to make sure that her daughter knew she was important and capable of breaking the predisposed gender roles of her time. Unfortunately, her mother never lived to see her realize this vision. Celia Bader died the day before Ruth’s high school graduation, but Ruth carried her mother’s strong work ethic and determination with her.
Ruth went to Cornell University to complete her undergraduate degree in government. There she met a sophomore named Martin “Marty” Ginsburg. She lovingly recalls that “…he was the first boy I ever knew who cared that I had a brain.” They married after she graduated. They had a daughter, and discovered her culinary skills – or lack thereof. After she served Marty a fish casserole, he took over cooking. After his death, the Supreme Court Historical Society released a cookbook of his recipes. Marty and Ruth’s marriage, an equal partnership, was unique at the time, and it was just the beginning of the Ginsburgs breaking society’s norms.
Marty was diagnosed with cancer during his junior year at Harvard Law School, but RBG managed to keep up with his notes and she typed his papers while he dictated. She did all of this, while still managing to be at the top of her Harvard Law School class. She attended Harvard in its 6th year of admitting women. During the dean’s dinner, he asked each one of the nine women to stand up and explain why they wanted to attend in an opening that could have gone to a man. Years later, Justice Ginsburg described her answer, “that it was important for a woman to understand her husband’s work,” as untruthful. History will show that she shared many truths that affected lives over the course of her career.
Justice Ginsburg completed law school at Columbia after moving for her husband’s job. Though her resume was extraordinary and rivavled, if not exceeded, her male counterparts’, she was offered no jobs. She eventually took a teaching position at Rutgers University. When she found out she was pregnant with her second child, she hid her pregnancy due to the fear of being laid off, as during her work at the Social Security Administration office in Oklahoma, she was demoted after becoming pregnant with her first child. With her small stature and quiet voice, people often dismissed her. But they could not have been more wrong. Ruth Bader Ginsburg went on to face gender bias and discrimintion, and she worked to ensure that future generations had a different experience.
Justice Ginsburg led the Court in many revolutionary rulings. Clearly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s quiet voice rose to become a powerful force for justice. As we thank suffragettes for the right to vote, we can thank Ruth Bader Ginsburg for rights that we sometimes take for granted today.
Fast forward to present time, where she is known as the Notorious RBG and the Great Dissenter. Many see RBG as a role model who fought to realize the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which provides that people shall be equally protected by US laws. By chipping away at discriminatory laws, she started to crack systemic gender bias. From her first major victory in 1971 to more recent Supreme Court decisions, she helped set an expectation that “…a person’s sex bears no necessary relationship to ability.” In 1978, Justice Ginsburg was involved in the decision that protected a woman’s right to work while pregnant. RBG challenged society’s preconceived notions about what is possible, especially for women. In fact, even in death, she is making history.
RBG is the first woman, and first person of the Jewish faith, to lie in state in our country’s capital. Out of all 114 members of the Supreme Court throughout history, only 4 have been women, all of whom, including RBG, have served only within the last 40 years. She was also an outspoken advocate on women’s reproductive health as well as her right to choose. She said in an interview with the New York Times that, “The side that wants to take the choice away from women and give it to the state, they’re fighting a losing battle. Time is on the side of change.”
Our nation is now at a crossroad between staying in the past or continuing to make social changes for the better, and RBG knew that.
She recognized that we would come to a point where she wouldn’t be here to serve and protect, but through her example, we know just how much we can achieve. If we unite, listen and compromise, we can do great things.
There are no words that can ever describe how much we owe to RGB. But there are two words we should be saying. “Thank you.” After all she has done for us, she deserves to R.I.P . . . rest in power, rest in protest. In one of her most memorable quotes, she said “I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability . . .we should be able to develop our own talents, whatever they may be, and not held back by artificial barriers . . . Who will take responsibility for raising the next generation?”
P.S. We are the next generation! It’s up to us. Thank you, RBG.
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