Historic Figure for Women: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Passes Away

A true feminist in her own right

On Friday, September 18, 2020, the news broke about the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She died, at her home in Washington D.C., from complications of metastatic cancer in the pancreas. She was 87. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a very forward-thinking woman. I would even say she wasan amazing example of what the feminist movement is about. As a young woman she encountered and challenged a male-dominated world.  While we will remember her as the Supreme Court judge, collar and all, we should also reflect on how she fought throughout her life to become who she was, and how vehemently she fought for women’s rights. Judge Ginsburg came from a low-income, working-class family in Brooklyn, New York.  She saw in her mother what sacrifice and dedication can do.  Instead of attending college, she worked in a garment factory to make sure her brother finished it instead.  This strength and independence left a lasting impression on Judge Ginsburg, she was instilled with the value of a good education. 

Unfortunately, her mother died during her high school career, but this didn’t deter her from continuing her studies. She attended Cornell University, and graduated,top of her class, in 1954, the same year she married her husband, Martin Ginsburg. In the 1940s and 1950s, women were encouraged to get married and start a family rather than pursue higher education.  This was not the case for the new Mrs. Ginsburg.  She continued her education while balancing it with being a mother and a wife.  This became particularly challenging when her husband was drafted into the military.  During her time in law school, Mrs. Ginsburg faced a hostile male-dominated environment, but she was able to graduate as  one of only eight females in her class of 500 students. She even made the prestigious Harvard Law Review. Things became more complicated for her when her husband contracted cancer.  It is incredible that she managed to raise her daughter and take care of her sick husband; she  even took notes for the classes he was unable to attend while continuing her own studies.  In any decade such a challenge would seem insurmountable, yet it didn’t stop Judge Ginsburg.

The climb to becoming a Supreme Court Judge was not easy for her.  She encountered more gender discrimination, yet in 1993 President Bill Clinton elected her to the Supreme Court.  Once there, Mrs. Ginsburg fought staunchly for women’s rights and equality.  Her own history gave her that unique perspective of what women deal with wherever they go. She was once the director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.  Many cases that appeared before the Supreme Court created opportunities for her to fight for women’s rights.  However, she wasn’t only interested in women’s rights.  She believed that all people have the right to equality, as  her service on the Supreme Court shows.

Ginsburg wrote her first Supreme Court brief on the case of Reed v. Reed in 1971. Ruth represented Sally Reed, who wanted to be the executor of her son’s estate instead of her ex-husband. The question was if a state could automatically pick men instead of women for the executors of estates. The answer that Ginsburg and Reed got in the Supreme Court was no. This made it the first time a state was struck down because it discriminated against gender. In 2007, she took on Congress with Ledbetter v. Goodyear, passing a law that would override a court decision in limiting back pay to those who had faced employment discrimination. This bill was the first passed in 2009 when Obama took office.  Also, in 2007 she took to court Gonzales v. Carhart, where there was a 5-4 majority in favor of the “Partial-Birth Abortion Act.” For a time, the courts had approved an abortion ban that didn’t make exceptions for the sake of women’s health. Then, in 2014, Ginsburg fiercely expressed  her opinions in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case. This case was “a decision that allowed some for-profit companies to refuse, on religious grounds, to comply with a federal mandate to cover birth control in health care plans.” The owners claimed providing that kind of insurance coverage went against their religious beliefs. Ginsburg stated that “such an exemption would deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs, access to contraceptive coverage.” 

During her years in court, she continued to keep up her appearances abroad and at home, despite fighting cancer 5 separate times. In 1999 she was diagnosed with colon cancer, and ten years later with pancreatic cancer. This was followed by lung cancer in 2018, pancreatic cancer again in 2019 and liver lesions in 2020. During the last years of her life, she endured chemotherapy, radiation and shingles. While this remarkable woman is a role model for many who want to succeed in law, what truly makes her a role model for women is the way she lived her life.  Fighting societal norms in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, while continuing to be a wonderful mother and wife, shows that women do not have to choose between having a family or a career.  If this woman could push through a male-dominated world and rise to the level of Supreme Court judge, it is completely possible for any of us to pursue our dreams as well.

Judge Ginsburg’s work on the Supreme Court is impressive and progressive, and she should be remembered for these acts, but I believe it is equally important to be reminded of the struggle and successes that lead her to service. Given her history, it’s no wonder how supportive she was of equal rights and equal opportunity in education.  I look to her as a role model, and it reminds me that my own personal rights were fought for by her. As college students, we envision our futures and look at careers from all walks of life, taking for granted the paths that were forged for us to succeed. This amazing woman should be an example to all of us of what we can achieve.  I salute Ruth Bader Ginsburg for showing the world that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what struggles you may be up against: we can achieve our goals regardless.

Authors: Janelle Fontaine|Opinions Editor & Marisa Kaleva|Staff Writer

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