When RBG started law school in the 1950s, women were less than 3% of the legal profession in the United States. Here is how she blazed her own path.

In Her Words: Happy Birthday to the Notorious RBG

Author: Lisa Niver

Happy Birthday Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. You have inspired our nation. Thank you for your commitment to change the world by fighting to end gender discrimination under the law.

I have seen the documentary, Notorious RBG, the movie, On the Basis of Sex, the Skirball Center exhibit twice and read her book. I am grateful to Ruth Bader Ginsburg for her willingness to never give up. I am thrilled that now change.org has a petition with more than 86,000 signatures (she will be 86 today) and the idea to rename a building after her in honor of her life of service and being a trailblazer.

When she was young, there were no women judges and certainly none on the supreme court. But now there are. Life has changed.

In her book, My Own Words, Ginsburg writes: “Contrast the ancient days (the fall of 1956) when I entered law school. Women were less than 3% of the legal profession in the United States, and only one woman had ever served on a federal appellate court. Today about half the nation’s law students and more than one-third of our federal judges are women, including three of the nine Justices seated on the U.S. Supreme Court bench. Women hold more than 30% of U.S. law school deanships and serve as general counsel to 24% of Fortune 500 companies. In my long life, I have seen great changes!”

She has helped change the law and our perception of what it means to be a lawyer. Ginsburg’s mother and her teachers encouraged her to read, to be independent and to find her own way in the world. In celebrating her birthday, we must remember that we still have work to do. Ginsburg says: “Most people in poverty in the United States and the world over are women and children, women’s earnings here and abroad trail the earnings of men with comparable education and experience, our workplaces do not adequately accommodate the demands of childbearing and childrearing, and we have yet to devise effective ways to ward off sexual harassment at work and domestic violence in our homes. I am optimistic, however, that movement toward enlistment of the talent of all who compose “We, the People,” will continue.”

Ginsburg shared in her book, My Own Words, what the first woman on the Supreme Court of the United States, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor told her:

“For both men and women, the first step in getting power is to become visible to others, and then to put on an impressive show. . . . As women achieve power, the barriers will fall. As society sees what women can do, as women see what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things, and we’ll all be better off for it.” Justices Ginsburg, O’Connor, Kagan and Sotomayor are doing something that was unthinkable not that many decades ago.

Lisa Niver of We Said Go Travel at the Ruth Bader Ginsburg exhibit in LA

In her book, My Own Words,  Ginsburg shares that she was drawn to the stories of Nancy Drew because she was “a girl who did things. She was adventuresome, and daring”…and Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, also captured her imagination. When she was 13 and editor of the school newspaper, she wrote a column about “Eleanor Roosevelt the head of the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Ten Commandments, Magna Carta, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and United Nations Charter.” From her childhood writings to her supreme court dissents, Ginsburg is a champion of woman every where.

Ginsburg also reminisces about “the women in the Senate and the women at the Court” dinner in her book.  She tells us that: “The first time, in 1994, there were two Justices and six senators. In 2012, we were three, and seventeen women held Senate seats.” But for the next dinner, there will be 3 in the court and 25 from the senate. There are more women at the table but there is more work to be done.

I loved walking through the exhibit about her at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles. Normally a retrospective like that shows someone who is no longer alive. Thank you to the curators and the museum for honoring Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during her lifetime. I wonder what she will do next.

Ginsburg lived in Sweden when she was a young lawyer and learned the word, “vägmärken, which translates literally as “pathmarker” or “waypaver.” Her hard work has created changes in gender equality for all of us. She is truly a way paver!

When she left law school, she could not get a job as a lawyer both because she was Jewish and because she was female. She was hired as the first tenured woman law professor at Columbia University Law School and created the first class on gender and law.

In her book, My Own Words, the editors explain that due to her “twenty-five legal articles chronicling and critiquing the unfolding law, constitutional and otherwise, on gender equality, her  twenty-four briefs for Supreme Court cases, her six appearances before the Court to present oral arguments,” she earned the honorific “the Thurgood Marshall of the women’s movement.”  Ruth Bader Ginsburg deserves to be an icon known as Notorious RBG.

On June 14, 1993, President William Jefferson Clinton chose Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg as his nominee for the Supreme Court. In her book, the editors shared Clinton’s reasoning, and quoted him saying: “Quite simply, what’s in her record speaks volumes about what is in her heart. Throughout her life, she has repeatedly stood for the individual, the person less well-off, the outsider in society, and has given those people greater hope by telling them that they have a place in our legal system, by giving them a sense that the Constitution and the laws protect all the American people, not simply the powerful.”

In a graduation speech shared in her book, Ginsburg told students:

“As you leave here and proceed along life’s paths, try to leave tracks. Use the education you have received to help repair tears in your communities. Take part in efforts to move those communities, your nation, and our world closer to the conditions needed to ensure the health and well-being of your generation and generations following your own.”

Thank you to Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg for leaving tracks, repairing tears and being a way paver. I wish her a happy and healthy birthday and many more years on the Supreme Court.

Lisa Nivers of We Said Go TravelLisa Ellen Niver is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 101 countries and six continents. Her website, We Said Go Travel, was read in 212 countries in 2018. Find her talking travel on KTLA TV and her YouTube videos with over 900,000 views. Lisa has written for AARP, American Airways, Jewish Journal, Ms. Magazine, Smithsonian and Wharton Magazine. She is writing a book, “Brave Rebel: 50 Adventures Before 50,” about her most recent travels and challenges. Look for her underwater SCUBA diving, in her art studio making ceramics or helping people find their next dream trip.