By Caroline Cannon
“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”— Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 2015
On September 18, 2020, the world lost one of the most ardent advocates for women’s rights. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, frequently called the “Notorious RBG”, passed away after a long fight with pancreatic cancer. And even in the highly polarized political scene that America finds itself in today, her death is mourned across the political spectrum.
This grief adds to the testimony that RBG truly changed the world for the better. She was a trailblazer for women’s education, attending Harvard Law School where she was just one of 9 female students in a class of 500. She was a leader for women’s rights, firmly supporting the #MeToo movement and becoming the second female Supreme Court Justice in 1993. She supported many different community organizations and charities, such as the Malala Fund, Hand and Hand, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the Washington Opera, and more. Justice Ginsburg always did what was best for her community, and continuously gave back to those less fortunate than her.
For those not familiar with Justice Ginsburg’s achievements, here is a quick list of some of her most notable accomplishments:
She graduated first in her class at Columbia Law School: After graduating from Cornell University, RBG decided to enter law school because she thought that she could do the job better than anyone she knew. She was right. Columbia Law School is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s top law schools, and she tied for best in the class.
She experienced sexism daily (overcame all of it): RBG grew up in a world where women had to be at least three times better than men to get the same recognition, but she didn’t let that stop her from achieving her goals. While in school, she insisted on being treated no differently from her fellow male classmates and although she faced hurtful remarks and targeted attacks, she overcame any challenges that she faced.
She was the first person on both the Columbia and Harvard law reviews: Law reviews are student-run journals that publish articles written by law professors, lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals. These journals, especially at prestigious law schools such as Columbia and Harvard, highlight what they feel is important, groundbreaking, or thought-provoking in the legal world. Justice Ginsburg has been featured in many law reviews over the time of her highly successful legal career, and has paved the way for other women to be featured in such highly regarded law reviews.
She was the second female law professor at Rutgers University: Even though she graduated top of her class from Columbia in 1959, RBG still struggled to find a job after graduation. In an article published in 1993, RBG said that she “..struck out on three grounds. [She] was Jewish, a woman, and a mother.” After searching for jobs across the board, she was offered a position to teach law at Rutgers Law School in 1963. But, her struggle was not over, because even though the Equal Pay Act passed in 1963 and ensured that women would be paid the same as men in the workplace, RBG was still not being paid the same as her male coworkers. So, she filed a complaint, argued her case, and won.
She was the first female Jewish justice on the Supreme court: After serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit for 13 years, RBG was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the Supreme Court. Although she was not the first woman to serve (the first being Sandra Day O’Connor), nor the first Jewish person to serve, she was the first female Jewish justice ever.
This is just a short list of some of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s incredible achievements. If you are interested in learning more about her life, I encourage you to watch her documentary “RBG” on Hulu, Youtube, or Amazon Prime. There are also many podcasts, videos, blog posts, articles, and more on her life and the legacy she has left behind. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy will be honored for generations to come.
Here are some thoughts from our HB community about the passing of RBG. Want to share your opinion? Please feel welcome to leave a comment down below.
“I’m devastated by her loss, she was such a giant among men. Her work over the years made huge strides for the feminist movement. Of course, it’s really heartbreaking that to so many it feels like the future of our country was resting on a 78-year-old woman with cancer.”— Violet Webster, Class of 2021
“I loved everything about RBG. She was a woman who could both fight for women, LGBTQ+ people, and people of different abilities while also wearing frill collars and supporting her husband. She inspired women and girls to fight for their rights. I was incredibly saddened by her loss, and it made me want to fight to protect her legacy.”— Sophia Boyer, Class of 2021
“I think about RBG in the context of working in a girls’ school and not only embracing the governing philosophy of HB but of feminism overall. RBG was a groundbreaking attorney who tried some seminal court cases earlier in her career before she became a judge that deserve recognition. She was a legal trailblazer not only as one of the few women to ascend to the professional heights she did but also because her legal work blazed trails for many others as well. Lastly, I always loved the playfulness she exhibited in accepting the mantle of “Notorious RBG” and clips of her acknowledging her nickname as a reference to a rapper named Notorious BIG I’ve always found to be so charming. She didn’t need to pay all that any mind but she did. I love what that says about her as an intellectual and as a human being.”— Mr. Ciuni, Director of the Fellowship of Global Citizenship
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg dedicated her life to gender equity, and her work directly impacted my life. During the 1970s Justice Ginsburg (along with the work of many other women) helped challenge beliefs and laws that limited women simply based on their gender. Justice Ginsburg argued six gender discrimination cases in front of the supreme court and won five. Her advocacy for women’s rights and gender equality left a powerful mark on my life. I found inspiration in her work. It helped me understand and deal with discrimination in my own life, especially when I was in high school. Despite being one of the top players on my coed middle school soccer team, I was no longer allowed to play in high school because I was a girl. Ginsburg’s legacy helped inspire me to take on the school establishment over this issue, eventually leading to my school starting a girls’ varsity soccer program.”—Ms. Thomas, Director of the Aspire Program and the Fellowship in Equity & Action
“One thing I’m thinking about is that Justice Ginsburg didn’t get to live to see her mandate that “women belong in all places where decisions are being made” come fully to fruition. I hope I do. But either way, I find her model of working towards a goal you may never see arrive encouraging. Whatever we want to see happen, we can’t be discouraged from doing the work, a thing that was certainly true for so many people through the Civil Rights era. Finally, as I age I am always looking for models of people who stay sharp and strong and continue to grow, so I like to think that at 80+ years old I’ll have the energy and the wherewithal to be as active and as mentally and physically fit as she was. I won’t be reading over legal briefs at 2:00 am before catching four hours of sleep, but I do hope to remain that passionately engaged with the world.”— Mr. Parsons, Director of the Fellowship in Applied Studies and the Osborne Writing Center
“She was my hero: a strong woman who used American law to promote equality, flipping the switch on judges who for centuries had used American law to push marginalized groups down. Because of her lifetime of action, she has given the next generation a more equal and fair world than the one she inherited. For that I say: Thank you RBG!— Emma Gerber, Class of 2021
“My favorite quote from Ruth Bader Ginsburg is “Never underestimate the power of a girl with a book.” Ginsburg’s legacy is one of encouraging all women to find and use their voices in the world. As an English teacher, I can think of no better way to remember her than through reading and writing.”— Ms. Lewis, Upper School English Teacher