Ruth Bader Ginsburg: One of the Most Iconic Women in America

By Cassidy Pate

When you hear the name Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG) what words come to mind? Icon, Advocate, Supreme Court Justice? All of these words would apply. RBG was a Jewish, liberal woman who made a huge impact on America. After facing so many different challenges in her life for being a woman who wanted a good life for herself, she helped the rest of us so we can have an easier time than her. 


Before she became the role model she was, RBG had a very hard time getting through the earlier stages of her life. She was born March 13, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York. She grew up in a low-income, working-class neighborhood. Her mother, who was a major influence in her life, taught her the value of independence and good education. RBG’s mother herself didn’t go to college because her parents made her get a job to make enough money to send her older brother to college. This was an act of selflessness that RBG was impressed by and looked up to. Because of this, she made sure to do the best she could in school. RBG went to James Madison High School, working diligently and excelling in her studies. Her mother struggled with cancer throughout RBG’s high school career and ended up passing away the day before her high school graduation. 


RBG attended Cornell University, graduating at the top of her class while meeting her future husband, Martin D. Ginsburg; Ginsburg was also a law student at Cornell. They both graduated in 1954 and got married the same year. Martin was drafted into the military and shortly after he was drafted, their first child, Jane, was born. He served for two years.  When he got discharged, they returned to Harvard Law where RBG was enrolled. RBG learned how to balance school and being a mother while she was at Harvard. She encountered an environment that was very male-dominated and hostile. Out of her class of 500, only 8 of the students were female. At Harvard, women were chided by the dean for taking places of qualified men. RBG excelled academically, and eventually became the first female member of the Harvard Law Review, a prestigious legal journal. Martin got cancer in 1956, requiring intensive treatment. During this time, RBG attended to her very young daughter and her sick husband. She took notes for Martin during his classes while keeping up with all of her own classes. Martin recovered, graduated from law school, and got a job at a firm in New York City. To stay close to her husband, but to also finish her studies, RBG transferred to Columbia Law School in New York City. She then graduated first in her class at Columbia in 1959.


RBG struggled to find a job after finishing college, encountering a lot of gender discrimmination. She started out as a clerk for US District Judge Edmund L. Palmieri. Shortly after that, she got a job as a professor at Rutgers University Law School, where she taught from 1963-1972. She then taught at Columbia from 1972-1980, becoming the first female tenured professor at the school. 


In the 1970’s, RBG served as the director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. She argued six cases for gender equality to the Supreme Court. She did this because she believed that the law was gender blind, and she thought everyone should be entitled to equal rights. She won five of the cases and the only reason she didn’t win all 6 was because the Supreme Court brought up a portion of the Social Security Act that favored women over men, because it granted certain benefits to widows and not widowers. Those five cases she won began the era of Ruth Bader Ginsberg fighting for women’s rights. 


Once she finally started getting job opportunities, her life started flowing more smoothly than it had been. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed RBG to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She served there for 13 years until 1993 when president Bill Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court, where she would be filling the seat of Byron White. Clinton wanted someone with the intellect and political skills to deal with the more conservative members of the court. Several people expressed concern over this because of how she transitioned from being a social advocate to a Supreme Court Justice. She was easily confirmed by a vote of 96-3, becoming the second-ever female justice and the first-ever Jewish female justice. She was considered a liberal presenting a strong voice favoring gender equality, rights of workers, and separation of church and state. 

She made so many different changes in America and had one of the biggest impacts on this country. In 1996, she wrote the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in US v. VA. In 1999, she won the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award for her contribution to gender equality and equal rights. 


Her husband passed away from cancer on June 27, 2010. This had a very big impact on her because she described him as her “biggest booster” and “the only young man I dated who cared I had a brain.” She served as a Supreme Court Justice for 27 years until she passed away on September 18, 2020, due to complications with past cancer issues. She had survived cancer four different times before this. She has now become the first woman to lie in state at the US Capitol.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a legend and helped with so many issues when it came to equality. The impact she made on this country will forever be remembered as iconic. She changed the country for the better, and we will all be forever grateful for the work she put in. 


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