A Supreme Court hero, and all-round wise woman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday at the age of 87 surrounded by family at her home in Washington, D.C.
She was the second woman justice to serve on the highest court in the land—a pioneer in her field, when there were few females in the halls of legal offices or law schools. But there were other reasons we will always remember her.
1) She proved that mothers get things done—and then some.
RBG showed that being a mother can prove an advantage and not an impediment to a woman’s professional life.
In a 2016 essay for the New York Times, she wrote that she believed her success at Harvard and Columbia Law School—where she graduated joint first in her class in 1959—was actually down to having an infant to care for.
“My success in law school, I have no doubt, was in large measure because of baby Jane. I attended classes and studied diligently until 4 in the afternoon; the next hours were Jane’s time, spent at the park, playing silly games or singing funny songs, reading picture books and A. A. Milne poems, and bathing and feeding her.
“After Jane’s bedtime, I returned to the law books with renewed will. Each part of my life provided respite from the other and gave me a sense of proportion that classmates trained only on law studies lacked.”
2) She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind.
Despite coming out of law school with top grades, no law firm in New York City would hire Ginsburg, who was, by then, a mother of two.
She began teaching at Rutgers and Columbia. Those positions gave RBG the opportunity to advocate for women’s rights. She forged a name for herself that led to her 1980 appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. Thirteen years later, President Clinton nominated her for the Supreme Court.
As one of nine, Ginsburg was known as the “Great Dissenter.” She had special neckwear that she donned, even calling one her Dissent Collar.
The cases on which Justice Ginsburg dissented weren’t trivial: She spoke up on matters of affirmative action, employment discrimination, access to abortion, and controlling political campaign spending.
She demonstrated how, when you believe something’s wrong, to use your voice.
3. She showed there’s value in stoicism.
In an interview with legal academic Jeffrey Rosen, published in the Atlantic, she spoke of ignoring ‘useless emotions’.
“My mother’s advice was, don’t lose time on useless emotions like anger, resentment, remorse, envy. Those, she said, will just sap time; they don’t get you where you want to be.”
“One way I coped with times I was angry: I would sit down and practice the piano. I wasn’t very good at it, but it did distract me from whatever useless emotion I was feeling at the moment. Later, I did the same with the cello. I would be absorbed in the music, and the useless emotion faded away.”
Perhaps that’s why RBG loved listening to classical music all her life—even during her famous workouts.
4. She lived by her morals.
The late justice was never interested in being the loudest, showiest person in the room.
In fact, those who knew her described her as a quiet, “almost retreating” woman with a soft voice.
So what drove her? Her advice to others gives a clue. “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
5. She had hope for the future.
Speaking with Rosen in late 2019, she said, “Our country has gone through some very bumpy periods. But, I’ll tell you the principal reason why I’m optimistic: It’s the young people I see.
“My lawyer granddaughter, my law clerks, are determined to contribute to the good of society. And to work together. So the young people make me hopeful.
“They want to take part in creating a better world. Think of Malala. Think of Greta Thunberg in Sweden. What is she, 15, 16? Yes, I’m putting my faith in the coming generations.”