Passion at an Early Age
Ruth Bader loved to read and learn. Her interest in the law started in grade school, when she wrote articles for her school newspaper about the Magna Carta, a document that represented the first step toward freedom in English-speaking lands. Bader continued her passion for the law at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she graduated with high honors.
While at Cornell she met Martin D. Ginsburg at age 17. She graduated from Cornell with a Bachelor of Arts degree in government on June 23, 1954. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the highest-ranking female student in her graduating class. Bader married Martin Ginsburg a month after her graduation from Cornell, and followed her new husband to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he was stationed as an ROTC officer in the Army Reserve called up for active duty. At age 21, she worked for the Social Security Administration office in Oklahoma, where she was demoted after becoming pregnant with her first child. She gave birth to a daughter in 1955.
In fall 1956, she enrolled at Harvard Law School, where she was one of nine women in a class of about 500. The Dean of Harvard Law reportedly asked the female law students, including Ginsburg, "How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?" When her husband took a job in New York City, she transferred to Columbia Law School and became the first woman to be on two major law reviews: the Harvard Law Review and the Columbia Law Review. In 1959 she earned her Bachelor of Laws at Columbia and tied for first in her class.
She tells us:
Generalizations about the 'way women are' and estimates of what is appropriate for most women no longer justify denying opportunity to women whose talent and capacity place them outside the average description.”
More, when asked when there will be enough women on the Supreme Court, Bader-Ginsburg famously responds:
When there are nine."
Professional Opportunities for Women WERE Limited
At the start of her legal career, Ginsburg faced difficulty finding employment being a wife, a mother, and Jewish. Rising through the ranks of a legal profession that was almost exclusively dominated by men was challenging. She tells us that after graduation from Columbia Law School in 1959, where she was at the top of her class, "there was not a single law firm in the city of New York that would give me a job."
The gender gap for female lawyers is improving, slowly, but it is improving. According to ABA statistics, women now account for roughly a third of all professionals in the legal field, a significant improvement over the last generation.
Bader-Ginsburg's contributions to the hopeful outlook for women in the judicial landscape are significant. Optimistically, progress will continue.
Perseverance and Success!
Since taking office, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has written thirty-five significant opinions (formal statements written by a judge), two important concurring (agreeing) opinions, and three selected dissenting (opposing) opinions. Ginsburg was seen as a stronger voice in favor of gender equality, the rights of workers, and the separation of church and state (the belief that neither the church nor the government should have any influence over the other) than many of the other judges on the Supreme Court. In 1999, she won the American Bar Association's Thurgood Marshall Award for her contributions to gender equality and civil rights.
As more and more women became judges throughout the country, Justice Ginsburg gave former president Carter credit for changing the judicial landscape for women forever. Appearing at a program entitled Woman and the Bench at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, she said, "He appointed women in numbers such as there would be no going back." Ruth Bader Ginsburg deserves equal credit for surviving and fighting through the discrimination of the past to help bring about change and pave the way for a new generation of women.
Note to readers: My original intent was to feature Venus Williams this week. Her passion as a young tennis player and as a successful adult champion is remarkable. Equally remarkable are her efforts to secure prize money amounts for women that are the same as men's. But in light of our current president's 3/27 executive order to repeal Obama-era protections for women workers, I decided to instead highlight Ruth Bader Ginsburg's historic rise to the Supreme Court. Ginsburg has a front-row voice to fight for legislation that will further women's civil rights, instead of sending them backward.