Remembering the Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

A couple of years ago, I came upon a student who was dressed as Ruth Bader Ginsburg for our Grade 3 Global Trailblazers Project. During this annual event, our students research and present about leaders who have inspired them. As our student told the story of Justice Ginsburg’s life, I was struck by the impact Ms. Ginsburg had on this young person. 

We lost both a legal and cultural icon last week in the passing of Justice Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. She dedicated her career to slowly and systematically dismantling laws that allowed discrimination on the basis of sex and was a leading force in securing women’s rights to:

  • Obtain a mortgage without a male co-signer
  • Open a checking account without a male co-signer
  • Start a business without a male co-signer
  • Get a credit card without a male co-signer
  • Obtain a job without gender-based discrimination
  • Obtain/retain employment while pregnant
  • Not be forced to provide proof of sterilization to obtain/retain employment
  • Receive pension benefits equal to male coworkers
  • Receive consideration to be executors of their children’s estates

Justice Ginsburg herself faced much discrimination during the course of her career. Newly married, she settled with her husband in Oklahoma for two years. She was initially offered a position as a claims examiner at the Civil Service Rank of GS-5. However, the offer was withdrawn when they discovered her pregnancy, and she had to accept a clerk/typist position at the rank of GS-2 instead. Later, as one of only nine women out of 550 people in her class at Harvard Law, she had to defend her right to be there to the then-dean, who wanted to know why each woman in the class deserved to take a spot that could have gone to a man. Upon law school graduation, she received no offers from firms and was able to secure employment clerking for federal district judge Edmund L. Palmieri only because one of her professors threatened never to send the judge another law clerk if he did not. 

Justice Ginsburg’s life embodies the theme of our year, resilience. While she handled these indiginities with grace and good manners, she devoted her life’s work to trying to build a society in which others would not have to face them. She was also known for being incredibly strategic. As a litigator and director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, she carefully selected her cases as she persuaded an all-male Supreme Court, one case at a time, to start recognizing the constitutional barrier against discrimination on the basis of sex. 

In the latter years of her career, it was her pointed and powerful dissents on high-profile cases that made her a legend in the eyes of a new generation. Whether she was winning cases or voicing dissent, she was committed to pursuing justice, and her life and career remind us of the change that can be effected when we choose this path. She will be sorely missed, but I know that her legacy will carry on with others who fight for equal rights for all.

Danny Vogelman

Head of School