Today marks the day that Ruth Bader Ginsburg would have turned 88 years old. The world mourned her death in October 2020 when she lost her battle with cancer. We celebrate her life by looking back at her accomplishments and how they have changed the world we live in today.
Ruth was born in 1933 in Brooklyn with the given name Joan Ruth Bader. Her family all called her “Kiki” because apparently, she was a “kicky baby” in the womb. When she started school, there were several other girls named Joan, so her teacher began to call her by her middle name, Ruth and it stuck.
Ruth was an accomplished student and received her undergraduate degree from Cornell. After graduation she married Martin Ginsburg and became a mother. In 1956 Ruth began law school at Harvard then transferred to Columbia and graduated first in her class.
Despite her impressive transcripts and recommendations from several of her professors, RBG had a difficult time finding work as a lawyer due to her gender. Her first employment opportunities included a clerkship for a judge and as a research associate at Columbia. She finally was hired as a law professor in 1963 but was told that she would be paid less than her male colleagues because she had a husband and wouldn’t need as much money.
Eventually, Ruth gained tenure and became the first woman at Columbia to do so. By the 1970’s it became clear that Ruth’s passion was protecting women’s rights and promoting gender equality. She volunteered as a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and became director of the Women’s Rights Project. Through the ACLU, she presented 6 cases in front of the Supreme Court that were based on gender discrimination. 5 of the cases she won.
In 1993, RBG was appointed to the position of Supreme Court Judge. She is the second woman to hold this position and is famous for uttering the words ” I dissent.” – meaning that she did not share the majority opinion of the other Supreme Court justices. She is not the first or only justice to dissent; but she was very open about doing so and would change her collar over her robe to physically represent her opposing position. What we think of today when discussing RBG’s ability to dissent is really the power of having your voice heard, whether your opinion is popular or not.
These are some of our favorite laws that RBG fought for to provide gender equality to all:
1971 Section 214 of IRS code was amended based on a case that RBG won. She contended that the Equal Protection Clause of the constitution was violated by men not receiving the same caregiver benefits on their taxes as women. This is an important reminder that RBG fought for gender equality, not just women’s rights. She strongly fought to have equal rights for men and women.
1974 Equal Opportunity Act: Prior to RBG paving the way for this law, women needed a male co-signer to apply for a bank account, credit card or mortgage. Also, women did not receive the same military allowances as men and they paid more for their pension plans than men at the time.
Pregnancy Discrimination Act 1978 – When she became pregnant with her first child in her twenties, Ginsburg was fired from her job. Now this would not be legal. RBG fought hard for reproductive rights and now, women cannot be fired or discriminated against in the work place for being pregnant or for having plans to become pregnant in the future.
We could list so many more advances to gender equality made because of Ruth but instead we ask that you take some time to read about her today on your own. Celebrate her birthday by sharing something in your life that is better because of her!