Childhood & Early Life
Ginsburg was born as Joan Ruth Bader on 15, March 1933 in Brooklyn, New York City. When she was fourteen months old, her older sister Marylin died of meningitis at the age of six. Hence, she grew up without siblings in the Flatbush neighborhood.
At school, she was called Ruth as her class had many other girls named Joan. She learnt Hebrew at a young age as she was acquainted with ‘East Midwood Jewish Center.’ At the age of 13, Ruth attended a summer program at ‘Camp Che-Na-Wah,’ in which she performed as a rabbi in one of the plays.
She often visited the library along with her mother Celia Bader, who was determined to give her daughter the best possible education. Celia, who had sacrificed her own education in order to earn for her brother’s college education, served as an inspiration to Ruth right from her childhood.
Celia wanted her daughter to earn a college degree, which she thought would secure the job of a teacher to her daughter. Unfortunately, she passed away the day before her daughter’s high school graduation from ‘James Madison High School’ in Brooklyn.
Ruth later attended ‘Cornell University’ in Ithaca, where she became one of the members of the famous sorority, ‘Alpha Epsilon Phi.’ On June 23, 1954, she graduated from ‘Cornell University’ with a degree in ‘Bachelor of Arts.’ At the time of her graduation, Ruth was a member of the oldest academic honor society, ‘The Phi Beta Kappa Society’ and the highest-ranking female student of her class.
After working at the Social Security Administration office in her early 20s, Ruth got herself enrolled at the famous ‘Harvard Law School.’ She then attended ‘Columbia Law School,’ from where she earned her ‘Bachelor of Laws’ degree. After her college graduation, Ruth embarked on a journey, in which she faced difficulty in landing a job.
In 1960, her application for a clerkship position was rejected by Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. She was eventually accepted for a clerkship position by Judge Edmund L. Palmieri and thus began her judicial journey, which would later transpire into a glorious career.
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After working under Judge Palmieri for two years, she started working as a research associate of ‘Columbia Law School Project’ and was later promoted as an associate director on ‘International Procedure.’ In order to write about civil procedure in Sweden, she learnt Swedish and did extensive research at ‘Lund University’ in Scania, Sweden, before co-writing a book along with Anders Bruzelius.
In 1963, she started working as a professor at ‘Rutgers School of Law.’ But she was informed that her salary would be lesser than that of her male counterparts. After having been influenced by Sweden’s implementation of gender equality, Ruth, who was married by now, was determined to abolish gender inequality.
Hence, she co-founded a journal called ‘Women’s Rights Law Reporter’ in 1970, which was the first law journal to exclusively focus on women’s rights. She then taught at Columbia from 1972 to 1980, during which she co-authored a book on sex discrimination, which was the first law school casebook ever written.
In 1972, she also co-founded a project to support women’s rights at the popular nonprofit organization, ‘American Civil Liberties Union’ (ACLU). The following year, she was promoted as ACLU’s general counsel and for the next three years, she argued before the Supreme Court in six gender discrimination cases, out of which she won five.
While going about her cases, she chose her plaintiffs carefully and was determined to prove that practices involving gender discrimination was harmful to both women and men. She soon earned a reputation as a skilled advocate as her works led to the end of gender discrimination in many areas within the law.
She went on to argue and win multiple cases that defended the importance of gender equality and women’s rights in several fields. In one such case, she challenged a statute in Oklahoma, which was responsible for coming up with minimum drinking ages that were different for women and men.
Apart from defending what she believed in, she also continued to work on her ‘Women’s Rights Project’ until 1980, when she was appointment to the ‘Federal Bench.’ On April 14, 1980, she was nominated by President James Carter Jr. to the U.S. Court of Appeals, a position left vacant by Judge Harold Leventhal upon his death.
On June 18, 1980, she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and hence started serving as the judge. Her command over the cases and her sincerity made her the ‘Associate Justice of the Supreme Court’ when she was nominated by President Bill Clinton on June 14, 1993.
She received her commission from the Senate on August 3, 1993, following which she took her oath on August 10, becoming the second female justice to be confirmed to the Court. She became the senior member of the court’s liberal wing and the oldest justice on the court when Justice John Paul Stevens retired in 2010.
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Ruth Bader Ginsburg is still going strong as the Justice of the Supreme Court as she continues to fight against gender inequality, not only in America but also in other countries as well. In January 2012, she visited Egypt to hold a discussion with judges, legal experts, and law school students.
On October 4, 2016, her book titled ‘My Own Words’ was released by ‘Simon & Schuster.’ The book went on to feature in the best seller list of ‘New York Times.’ In 2018, she supported the ‘Me Too Movement,’ which was initiated to criticize sexual harassment and assault. She even shared her own experience of facing sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
Honor & Recognition
In 2009, Ruth Ginsburg was named as one of ‘100 Most Powerful Women.’ In 2015, her name was featured in the list of ‘100 most influential people,’ published by ‘Time’ magazine. She was also presented with honorary ‘Doctor of Laws’ degrees by prestigious universities like ‘Harvard,’ ‘Princeton,’ and ‘Willamette.’
A group of researchers named a species of praying mantis after Ginsburg as the neck plate of the newly found species resembled a jabot, which Ginsburg is known for collecting and wearing.
Since 2015, actress Kate McKinnon has been portraying Ruth Ginsburg on the famous American television show, ‘Saturday Night Live.’ On July 18, 2017, the makers of a biographical drama film titled ‘On the Basis of Sex’ announced that actress Felicity Jones would be playing the role of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In 2018, film-makers Julie Cohen and Betsy West came up with a documentary about Ginsburg. The documentary titled ‘RBG’ was premiered at the ‘Sundance Film Festival.’
While studying at ‘Cornell University’ in Ithaca, Ruth met her future husband Martin D. Ginsburg, when she was 17 years old. After dating for a few days, she married Ginsburg after her graduation from ‘Cornell University.’
Ruth and Martin Ginsburg were blessed with a daughter named Jane Ginsburg and a son named James Steven Ginsburg. After the birth of her daughter in 1955, Martin was diagnosed with testicular cancer and on June 27, 2010, he passed away due to complications from metastatic cancer.
In 1999, Ruth Ginsburg was diagnosed with colon cancer, which made her physically weak because of radiation therapies and chemotherapy. In order to regain physical strength, she started working out at a gym with the help of a personal trainer. By the time she had turned 80, she could complete twenty full push-ups in a session.
On February 5, 2009, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, for which she had to undergo a surgery. She was hospitalized at the ‘New York City hospital,’ from where she was discharged on February 13. In 2014, she experienced discomfort while working out, which prompted the doctors to place a stent in her right coronary.
Despite her health issues, she continues to inspire many by keeping herself fit in order to serve as the judge of the Supreme Court. In one of her recent interviews, she had said that she is feeling good and that she has no plans of retiring anytime soon.