RBG: Real Change

By Katyanna Horvath-Joukes, G12

Cover image: Rebecca Williams

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (March 15th 1933 – 18th September 2020)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a force to be reckoned with and a bringer of great positive change. She thrived in the face of adversity as she successfully fought for women’s rights, equality and a better future for our generation. She was the second Woman and first Jew to be appointed as a Supreme Court Judge, and was known for using her prestigious platform to help those who could do little to help themselves. 

“When I am asked ‘When will there be enough (women on the Supreme court)?’ and my answer is: ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”


Early life:

She was born as Joan Ruth Bader on the 13th of March in Brooklyn, New York City into a new family of four. Her father, Nathan, hailed from Odessa, Ukraine (still part of the Russian Empire at the time) and her mother, Celia, grew up in New York with Polish origins. Fourteen months after her birth, Bader’s parents went through one of the most difficult experiences a parent possibly can: their first born daughter, Marylin, died from meningitis. 

Celia gave Joan a nickname for being a particularly kicky baby, and it stuck – Joan was then dubbed Kiki by her family. Because so many people in Joan’s class had the same name, when Joan was in her adolescence, her mother requested she be called Ruth to stifle the confusion. The family belonged to the East Midwood Jewish Centre, a conservative synagogue, where they would attend mass every Sunday.

Ruth’s mother Celia had a big part in her education. She did very well in school for herself and had graduated high school at age 11, however she was never able to continue her studies as her parents sent her brother to university rather than her. Even when struggling with cancer, she would take Ruth to the library and support her through her studies – dying the day before Ruth’s High School Graduation.

Ruth Bader (as she would have at that point been called) attended Cornell University in New York City where she would meet her future husband, Martin D. Ginsburg, at age 17. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in government as the highest ranking female student in her university on the 23rd of June 1954. A month after, she and Martin got married – she was then Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

Giving birth in 1955 to her first child, Jane, a year later she enrolled herself in Harvard Law School; she was one of nine Women in a class of five hundred men. The dean of the school at one point invited all nine of them to dinner at his personal residence and asked: “Why are you at Harvard Law taking the place of a man?”. 

When her husband’s job moved the pair back to New York, she was the first woman to be on two major law reviews: the Harvard Law Review and the Columbia Law review. In 1959 she graduated from Columbia – tied first in her class.

“My mother told me to be a Lady. And for her that meant to be your own person, be independent.”



You would think that graduating with honours and the highest GPA from a prestigious University would have given her access to any job she could have wanted, but no: the World and in extension the Justice System was still highly sexist against women. Felix Frankfurter, a supreme court judge at the time, rejected Ginsberg for a clerkship position due to her gender – even with glowing recommendations from a Harvard Law Professor. A not entirely gentle push from her Columbia Law professor for Judge Edmund L. Palmieri to hire Ruth as a Law Clerk (even going so far as to threaten the man) finally got the Judge to recede and hire Ruth onto a Clerkship position she would keep well maintained and guarded for the following two years.

Between 1961 and 1963 Ruth co-authored a book on the civil procedure in Sweden; for which she had to learn the Swedish language. The experience enlightened her to the gender revolution taking place in Sweden – when women made up only 20 to 25% of all Law students. One of the Swedish Judges she observed for her research was 8 months pregnant and still working

From 1963 to 1972, Ginsburg held the position of Professor at Rutgers Law School — one of less than 20 women who were law Professors in the United States of America at the time — mainly teaching civil procedure to her students. She finally received Tenure in 1969, however the job had its drawbacks: she was informed that because her husband was already well-paid that she would be paid less than her male colleagues

In 1970 she co-founded the Women’s Rights Law Report, the first law journal in the USA to focus extensively on Women’s rights. From 1972 to 1980 she taught at Colombia law school where she was the first tenatured woman and co-authored the first law casebook and sex discrimination. She also spent a year studying behavioural sciences in 1977. 

One could argue that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s most iconic move was that of dissenting in court. In her own words: “Dissents speak to a future age. 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.” Many of the dissents she wrote were later collected and used as backing for new laws and legislation that has and will continue to change the world for the better. 

“Fight for the things you care about, but fight for them in a way that will lead others to join you.


 Notable Achievements

  • She was the First Jewish supreme court Judge
  • She create helped laws for school environments:
    • Equity in school for both sexes
    • She was against broader drug tests in students – as she knew specific students could and would be targeted.
  • Helped people with disabilities get more opportunities for work
  • Was a tremendous aid for the women’s rights and gender equality movements
    • She was an adamant advocate and activist for Women’s rights
    • Passed laws for equal pay
    • Passed a law stating “All juries must include women.”
    • Helped women gain the right to financial independence and equal benefits.
    • Pushed for state-funded schools to admit women
    • Believed men were entitled to the same care-giving and social security rights as women.
    • She won five landmark cases on gender equality
    • Got a salary increase for herself and female staff
    • Joined an equal pay campaign.
    • Volunteered at American Civil liberties unit, 70s’ & became the director of the women’s rights movement
  • Her work for marginalised communities (The LGBTQ+, marginalised groups of people of colour)
    • Believed that marginalised groups should receive justice and worked towards it as a goal.
    • She was an advocate for the LGBTQ.
    • Passed a law stating “Employers cannot discriminate against employees based on gender or reproductive choices.”
    • “We are a Nation made strong by people like you.” (talking to new citizens at a naturalisation lecture)

On the 18th of September Joan Ruth Bader Ginsburg died of Pancreas Cancer, this was announced to the public by the current Supreme Justice Court. 

Joan Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an emblem of hope in a time of injustice and her legacy will continue to pave the way for women and men alike, all across the world – fighting for the Dream of a Better Tomorrow.

May her memory be a blessing.

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