Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Life, Legacy, and Beyond

By: Eva Eapen

On March 15th 1933, Ruth “Kiki” Bader was born to Celia and Nathan Bader. Despite being supportive and loving parents, I doubt either of them anticipated that their child would go on to be the Supreme Court’s second female justice or that she would one day be known for working tirelessly for gender equality under the law. That said, few can deny that Ginsburg was special from the beginning. As a middle schooler, Ginsburg’s talent as a writer was already beginning to blossom as the editor of her middle school paper, The Highway Herald. Come high school though, she was dealt a tough blow. Her mother, Celia, was diagnosed with cervical cancer. In those days (1946, to be precise), there was no such thing as chemotherapy and therefore, most diagnoses were treated like death sentences. Despite this diagnosis, Celia Bader was an unusual mother for the 1950’s. Encouraging objectivity and independence in her young daughter, Celia told Ruth that she must not let emotions interfere with the task at hand, whatever it may be. Celia Bader died two days before Ruth’s high school graduation. 

Despite her mother’s illness, Ginsburg flourished throughout high school, earning top marks and being involved in various extracurriculars. She worked hard, and earned a full scholarship to Cornell University. Her freshman year there, she met her future husband, Martin “Marty” Ginsburg, on a blind date. He was a year ahead of her in school. She married him and they had their first child, Jane, before Ruth entered Harvard Law School in 1956 as 1 of 9 women in a class of 500. She transferred to Columbia Law School for her final year and tied for first in her class. 

As a lawyer, she argued and won several cases before the Supreme Court, managing to expand civil rights laws and 14th amendment protections to women. Ever the feminist, she eventually partnered with the ACLU with the intent of tackling every single law that discriminated on the basis of sex. Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed the country long before she joined the Supreme Court. She believed that prescribed gender roles limited potential and possibilities, for men and women alike. As she said “The gender line helps to keep women not on a pedestal, but in a cage”. 

In these tumultuous and contentious times, Ginsburg’s death on September 18th 2020 was desolating for many young people in America. It is not difficult to understand why. The woman who they had coined the “Notorious RBG”, the woman who was the source of inspiration for a colossal abundance of their t-shirts, tattoos, dissent necklaces, and even careers--was gone. I am among them, and I mourn with them. It is important, however, to remember that while Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead, her legacy remains. It lives on in her children and grandchildren. It lives on in the people kneeling in the streets every day to fight for what’s right. It lives on in those of us who hope--fervently and feverishly--to someday follow in her footsteps and use the power of words to change our world for the better. 

There is still work to be done, and we don’t have that petite legal “giant” to do it for us. Yes, she is gone. We remain.

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