Updated: Oct 28, 2020
Who Was Ruth Bader Ginsburg?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born on March 15, 1933. Her birth name was Joan Ruth Bader, but she started going by her middle name as there were so many Joans in her class. Like the other fathers in the neighborhood, Nathan Bader, Ruth’s dad, made a living selling fur hats and coats. But in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, Nathan had to work late just to make ends meet. On the other hand, Celia, her mother, stayed home to raise her two daughters. Sadly, when Ruth was only two, her six-year-old sister died. After that, Celia pinned all her hopes on little Ruth.
At that time, most mothers hoped their daughters would grow up to marry a handsome and rich man. Not Celia. She raised Ruth to be independent. More than anything, she wanted her daughter to get a good education. Ruth became a good student just like her mother wanted, but one time, she got a poor grade. Ruth then made up her mind to get straight As from then on. And she did. The future judge also loved books. Her favorites were the Nancy Drew mysteries, starring a girl detective. Her life wasn’t all about studying though. One day, she saw five boys jumping from roof to roof. She didn’t care if that wasn’t “ladylike”. Nothing could stop lively Ruth from joining in!
In school, Ruth found time to edit the school newspaper, date boys, and join a pep club. But she was holding in a big secret: her mother had cancer. Ruth never told a soul, not even her closest friends. In the spring of 1950, after many operations, her beloved mother died. Ruth felt devastated. After Celia’s death, to Ruth’s surprise, she had somehow saved up $8000 for Ruth’s college fund. This was so much money! Celia was such a strong, determined woman, and she had raised her daughter to be the same.
Lots of guys had asked Ruth on dates, but it was only Marty Ginsburg that interested her. Marty was Ruth’s opposite. Marty was outgoing, Ruth was shy. He was tall, she was short. Ruth was serious, Marty was goofy and made Ruth laugh. The two just clicked, right away! A few months later, they welcomed a baby daughter. They named her Jane. Even though Marty worked full-time, he didn’t expect Ruth to do all the parenting. After all, she worked, too. Marty shopped, cleaned, and helped care for the baby. Plus, he took over the cooking. Ruth couldn’t cook a tasty dish no matter what!
Ruth, although she was smart, didn’t shine at everything. And she failed her driver’s test five times before passing it. But at law school, she proved to be a natural. Soon she stood out in her class as a star student. That wasn’t the only reason she stood out in her class, though, she was one of nine women among more than five hundred men! Then, out of the blue, a crisis struck: Marty learned he had cancer, just like Ruth’s mother did. It was crushing news, but after a while, Marty beat the disease and graduated from Harvard just in time.
After Ruth graduated from law school, you would have expected job offers to come rolling in, as she had graduated at the very top of her class at a top law school, right? Wrong! Not a single one came. On their job postings, law firms stated “MEN ONLY”. Ten, twenty, thirty… more than forty firms rejected her application! Then, in 1963, Rutgers
University in New Jersey hired her to teach law. Finally! Unfortunately, her salary was less than that of the male teachers. How unfair! But Ruth stayed quiet… for now.
As the years passed, she began seeing more women filling her law classes. Women started to demand entry into “men only” jobs and schools. Now, Ruth got ready to fight, too, in the courtroom! Many laws across the country treated women unfairly. For example, a woman couldn’t get a credit card in her own name. Nor could she go to the bank and apply for a loan on her own - she needed her husband’s permission. Women were shut out of countless jobs everywhere.
Ruth knew, by her own experience, how it felt to be treated unfairly. Now, as a lawyer, she had the power and skills to fight for equal rights in court. She first helped female professors at her own school, Rutgers, file a lawsuit for equal pay. They won.
One winter afternoon in 1973, Ruth walked up the huge marble steps to the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC. And Ruth was going to argue her first case here! A hush fell over the court when it was time to begin. Everyone rose as the nine justices - all men - walked in. Could Ruth convince them of her case?
Her client was Sharron Fronterio, an officer in the US Air force. Male officers received benefits for their wives, such as payments for housing and medical care. However, the air force would not give her husband the same benefits. Why? Because the lieutenant was female.
As she launched into her argument, Ruth told the court that both women and men were now breadwinners. A woman’s paycheck and benefits were just as important as a man’s. Usually, the justices interrupted lawyers with countless questions. This time, the justices were just glued to her. They were not expecting the sheer force of her argument. Ruth’s argument convinced the case and won the case! The victory was important for every woman in the United States.
President Jimmy Carter, who took office in 1977, noticed something strange about the federal courts: there were ninety-seven male judges and only one woman. To balance things out, Carter made Ruth a federal judge on a circuit court. Her life changed in major ways. Her personal opinions didn’t matter anymore. To be fair and just, a good judge must decide cases based on facts alone.
One more hurdle lay ahead before Ruth could officially become a federal judge: the Senate still had to confirm her nomination. She answered the senators’ questions openly and honestly. “I hope my answers please the Senate, but in the end, I am what I am.” With resounding approval, the Senate voted in her favor, 96-3!
Unfortunately, Ruth Bader Ginsburg sadly passed away very recently at the age of 87. We will always recognize her as a remarkable justice who fought tirelessly for women’s rights. As a matter of fact, Skye here will dress up as RBG for Halloween! What an honor!