Women around the world are remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and a tireless advocate for women’s rights. Ginsburg died Friday, Sept. 18 at the age of 87.
Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993. But before she became one of the predominant legal scholars in the country, she was a working mom, balancing her law career with raising her two children, Jane and James.
In a 2017 interview with The Atlantic, she talked about the feeling that so many working moms have, of enjoying having time away from her profession to focus on motherhood, and time away from the kids to focus on her passion. She started law school when Jane was 14 months old.
“I attributed my success in law school largely to Jane. I think I had better balance, better sense of proportions of what matters,” she said. “I felt each part of my life gave me respite from the other.”
She went on to explain that she went to school from 8:30 till 4, and then took care of her kids until bedtime, when she could get back to law again.
Writing for The Washington Post, editor Amy Joyce talked about how Ginsburg was an inspiration to working mothers.
“A lot of Ginsburg’s success was buried in the belief that she deserved this — to put her brain to use. To mother, to dissent. To accept that her husband, Martin, would cook,” Joyce wrote. “That she would be one of the nine. Of course she could go to law school. Of course she could do it as a mother. Of course her husband could be just as good a parent as she could so she could study.”
When the children’s school called Ginsburg repeatedly, she famously reminded the secretary that the children had two parents, and their father would be perfectly capable of handling any emergencies that arose.
Ginsburg was married for 56 years, until Marty died in 2010. She spoke about the importance of having an equal partner.
“I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his,” she said. “And I think that made all the difference for me, and Marty was an unusual man. In fact, he was the first boy I knew who cared that I had a brain.”
Still, Ginsburg acknowledged the give-and-take of pursuing a career while also raising kids.
“You can’t have it all, all at once,” she said. “Who — man or woman — has it all, all at once? Over my lifespan I think I have had it all. But in different periods of time things were rough. And if you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it.”
Ginsburg’s own mom, Celia Bader, inspired her.
“My mother told me two things constantly,” she said. “One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent. The study of law was unusual for women of my generation. For most girls growing up in the ’40s, the most important degree was not your B.A., but your M.R.S.”
Ginsburg was confident that she would be a great lawyer.
“I thought I could do a lawyer’s job better than any other. I have no talent in the arts, but I do write fairly well and analyze problems clearly,” she said.
That self-belief kick started a career that would shape how American women can access everything from education to job opportunities and equal pay.
“Growing up, I always knew Bubbie’s job was important, but I never fully appreciated the extent of her accomplishments until I began studying law,” Ginsburg’s granddaughter, Clara Spera, wrote for Glamour in 2018.
As she began studying more of her grandmother’s cases, Spera realized why Ginsburg had become elevated from a Supreme Court Justice to a cultural icon — the Notorious RBG.
“She doesn’t have one case or moment that has defined her career,” Spera wrote. “Instead, to many, she’s a feminist icon because of her tireless persistence at inching us all closer to equality.”