The internet nicknamed her the Notorious R.B.G., but she was best known by her full name; Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 15, 1933, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was raised by her parents during the height of the Great Depression. Her mother worked hard to instill in her the value of independence and a good education, but tragically died from cancer the day before her high school graduation. Ginsburg went on to attend Cornell University after high school and graduated first in her class in 1954. She experienced a number of life changes this year; she married fellow law student Martin Ginsburg, had her first child, Jane, and dealt with the impending absence of her new husband as he prepared to serve two years in the military.
Fighting Discrimination in Law School
Once Martin had returned from the war, they both began attending Harvard Law School together, where she masterfully juggled both raising a young child and studying. However, she struggled to be taken seriously as a woman in a male dominated field. She was one of only eight females in a class of more than 500 students. Even those in the highest positions at Harvard discriminated against Ginsburg for her gender, and they didn’t hide their disappointment that she was occupying a space that they believed would’ve been better filled by a man. She proved them wrong, of course, by becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.
Eventually, her husband accepted a law clerk position in New York City. Ginsburg was able to transfer to Columbia Law School, where she graduated first in her class in 1959. After working a number of teaching jobs, she was hired as Director for the American Civil Liberties Union in the 1970’s. She successfully argued 6 landmark cases against the U.S. Supreme Court on gender equality. Ginsburg fought not only for women, but for men who faced gender discrimination as well; she wanted to level the playing field for both sides. Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1980. She served on the court for 13 years until Bill Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court of the United States in a landslide 96-3 vote.
Making a Difference
Ginsburg was a strong voice for gender equality, rights of workers, and maintaining the separation of church and state. She was instrumental in the decision to legalize gay marriage across all 50 states. In 2010, her husband Martin died of cancer; they were married for 56 years. He was quoted as saying, “My wife doesn’t give me advice about cooking and I don’t give her any advice about the law.”
Sadly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on September 18, 2020, at the age of 87. She was the fourth-oldest serving U.S. Supreme Court Justice in the history of the country. Throughout her life of service, R.B.G. gave us many tidbits of wit and wisdom. Here are a few of our favorite Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes.
Quiz yourself: R.B.G. Profile Quiz
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quotes:
On Being a Woman in America:
“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”
“My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent. The study of law was unusual for women of my generation. For most girls growing up in the ‘40s, the most important degree was not your B.A., but your M.R.S.”
“Every woman of my vintage knows what sexual harassment is, although we didn’t have a name for it.”
“Feminism is the notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents and not be held back by man made barriers.”
“You felt, in class, as if all eyes were on you and that if you didn’t perform well, you would be failing, not only for yourself, but for all women.”
On Her Marriage:
“If you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it. I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his, and I think that made all the difference for me.”
“Marty was so secure in himself that he never regarded me as any kind of threat. He was my biggest booster.”
“Every now and then it helps to be a little deaf…That advice has stood me in good stead. Not simply in dealing with my marriage, but in dealing with my colleagues.”
“Marty was an unusual man. In fact, he was the first boy I knew who cared that I had a brain.”
“I read Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex and that was an eye-opener. So I began to think, well, maybe the law could catch up with changes in society, and that was an empowering idea. The notion was that law was, yes, a way to earn a living, but also to do things that would make life a little better for your community.”
“It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today but for tomorrow.”
“So now the perception is, yes, women are here to stay. And when I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the supreme court]? And I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”
“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet,” she wrote in her dissent after the Supreme Court gutted a section of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.
“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
“When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”
“You can’t have it all, all at once. Who —man or woman— has it all, all at once? Over my lifespan I think I have had it all. But in different periods of time things were rough.”
“We should not be held back from pursuing our full talents, from contributing what we could contribute to the society, because we fit into a certain mold ― because we belong to a group that historically has been the object of discrimination.”
“If I had any talent in the world… I would be a great diva.”
“Our strategy was the soul of simplicity. It was to go after the stereotypes that were written into law and to show that many could be disadvantaged by the stereotype, as well as women. We wanted people to be judged by what they do, by the functions they perform, and not by gender.”
“I read every federal case that had to do with women’s equality or the lack thereof and every law review article. Now that seems like it was quite an undertaking but in fact, it was easily manageable because there was so little.”
“Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”
The Notorious R.B.G. was truly an American icon. We hope you enjoyed these Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes.
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