A little over a week ago we lost an American icon, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Later in life she would gain pop culture status and be affectionately known as the Notorious RBG (of course in reference to the late rapper Notorious BIG). The Supreme Court was established in 1789 and of the 114 Justices that have served in US history, all but 6 have been white men. There have been two African-American men, and one Hispanic woman, which brings the total number of women Justices to a whopping 4.
For Justice Ginsberg, taking the road less traveled would not be the easy path to take but she felt compelled to make her mark and forever change history. Although there may be many differing ideas as to what feminism is, if you look it up in the dictionary it says, “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” This is something that Ginsberg truly did believe to her core.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg graduated at the top of her class from Cornell University. She went on to be accepted at the prestigious Harvard School of Law, where Ginsberg was 1 of 9 women accepted along with 552 men in 1956. The women were questioned by the school as to why they were taking a position away from a man. Her husband, Marty Ginsberg was already a rising 2L at Harvard Law. During her second year of law school, she and Marty raised their first child while Marty was undergoing cancer treatments. This required that she take care of a toddler, and attend both her classes as well as her husbands, in order for him to not fall behind in his studies. She would then help him by typing his briefs as he dictated and then finish her own workload. After her second year, her husband received a position at a law firm in New York and Ginsberg transfers and graduates again top of her class at Columbia University School of Law. Despite all these accolades, it did not protect her from gender based discrimination women faced in the workplace during the 1960s, and she was unable to obtain a job following graduation. It wasn’t until a professor at Columbia refused to recommend any other students to clerk for a US District Judge until Ginsberg was hired, that she was given her first break.
Justice Ginsberg’s began to really make her mark in the 1970s, where she led the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. This set her up to fight gender discrimination and argue 6 landmark cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Because of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, women could open their own bank account, removed the presumption that the administrator of an estate must be a man, and can obtain a mortgage or even apply for a credit card without a male co-signer. Her fight however, was not just for women left behind, but also for men. For example, Ginsburg successfully argued and defended a father who was denied Social Security benefits because the law stated that only widow’s were eligible but not widowers; a woman in the Air Force whose husband was not given spousal allowance because the military only protected military wives; and an unmarried man who did not receive a tax deduction for the expense of hiring a caregiver for his elderly mother. She argued that “equal protection” is meant to protect everyone and therefor, there should not be distinctions based on gender.
Here are some of RBG’s best life lesson’s to remember when trying to make your own mark in history:
- “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
- “I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.”
- “Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true.”
- “I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.”
- “You can disagree without being disagreeable.”
For this week’s #MakeItHappen, learn from some of the great lessons taught by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Focus on things that matter to you and share that message with others in a way that advocates fairness, equality and not only focuses on yourself but your community. Finally, remember these words from RBG, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” It may not happen overnight but you have to keep on going and never quit. Let us know how you are making a difference and email us at email@example.com or share your story and tag us on social.
Go make it happen,
Luly & the YTeach Team
“Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.”
– Ruth Bader Ginsberg