Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York and went on to graduate at the top of her Cornell University class in 1954.
Later that year, she married her husband, Martin, and had their first child a year later. After Martin served two years in the military, both he and Ginsburg attended Harvard University.
When her husband was diagnosed with cancer, she helped him keep up with his studies while simultaneously maintaining her own classwork. Ginsburg transferred to Columbia University for her last year of school and graduated in 1959.
Ginsburg often faced gender discrimination – from being chastised for “taking a man’s spot” at Harvard to being overlooked for clerking positions until a Columbia professor stood up for her and recommended her and only her, to U.S. District Judge Edmund L. Palmieri.
After spending two years clerking for Judge Palmieri, Ginsburg taught at Rutgers University Law School, where she was the second female law professor, and then at Columbia University, where she became the school’s first female tenured professor.
When teaching at Rutgers University, she was not paid the same amount as the male professors, so she and other female colleagues filed an Equal Pay Act complaint and won. She later won five of the six cases she argued before the Supreme Court.
In 1993, she was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton where she served the next 27 years, until her death at the age of 87, on Sept. 18, 2020.
She was the first Jewish judge and second female judge to ever preside over the highest court in the land. She is best known for her work towards gender equality and earning the unofficial title “Notorious RBG.”
Ginsburg founded the Women’s Rights Project when she joined the ACLU in 1972. The WRP made strides towards equality by taking cases that affected social security provisions, inheritance law, and more.
Ginsburg’s accomplishments included, but are not limited to: fighting for equal treatment in insurance for men and women, creating legislation to prevent employers from firing pregnant employees, championing the right to equal education access and ending sex-segregated schools and working towards ending discrimination towards men, along with her well-known fight for women’s equality in the workplace.
She also fought for equal protection for LGBTQ+ individuals, immigrants and people with disabilities, as well as expanding voting rights.
However, perhaps her most notable case was concerning the right to choose an abortion. For Ginsburg, abortion was not an argument about when life begins or the ethics of terminating a pregnancy. Instead, she focused on bodily autonomy and argued this point vehemently until she was successful. She continued to uphold her beliefs and defense of autonomy until her death.
Ginsburg’s work for equality and women’s rights remains to have a lasting impact.
In addition to helping legalize gay marriage, Ginsburg officiated the wedding of a gay couple in 2013. It was one the first weddings she officiated and the first gay wedding in the Supreme Court. Ginsburg considered it a high honor to officiate.
In 2002, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame for her work on the Supreme Court and the advances she made towards breaking down gender barriers.
Senator Elizabeth Warren cites Ginsburg as one of her biggest inspirations. “As a young mom heading off to Rutgers law school,” says Warren, “I saw so few examples of female lawyers or law professors. But Ruthie blazed the trail. I’m forever grateful for her example – to me, and to millions of young women who saw her as a role model.”
Ginsburg was deeply invested in the lives of her colleagues and clerks, encouraging them to pursue high standards and big goals. Her actions backed the words of her famous saying, “Women belong in all the places decisions are being made.”