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  • Writer's pictureMatilda Butler

What is Ruth Bader Ginsburg's FIRST Name? Part 1

Updated: Apr 20, 2022

Image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
RBG Columbia Law School


Today, March 15, 2022 is RBG’s birthday. She would be 89.

RBG was a strong, empowered, courageous woman—an amazing woman and a wonderful example of the women we feature on RosieCentral. I’ve read a lot about her life and finally realized there isn’t an easy or quick way to adequately describe her importance in advocating for gender equality and women’s rights—for changing the lives of so many women.

Instead I’ve decided to create an abbreviated timeline that lets us see some of the highlights—some of the obstacles—and some of her accomplishments. I hope they will provide a heightened awareness of her life as well as an understanding of the difficulties she encountered and positive outcomes she achieved.

And more importantly, I hope you will find inspiration for your own life from the one she lived. Below is the inspirational message we find. We hope you will read more about RBG's life and write your own inspiration.



Do not let bias, discrimination, or other obstacles hold you back.

Find your own path to achieve your goals.

Before I get into my RBG list, let me start with a question and answer that shows RBG’s spunk.

RGB was often asked the following question (and gave the following answer) during the many years after she became a Supreme Court Associate Justice:

Q. When will there be enough women on the Supreme Court?

A. When there are nine. ~Ruth Bader Ginsburg

In her longer response, she notes that people are often shocked by her response. So she usually added: “’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

One of the things I love about RBG is her forthrightness that causes me to rethink my own assumptions.

Early Years of JOAN Ruth Bader (Ginsburg)

<<YES, I just revealed RBG's FIRST NAME>>

  • Once she started school, her mother found that there were other children named Joan in the same classroom. So she came up with a solution, telling her teacher to just call her by her middle name. And so, “Ruth” it was from the time she was six.

  • Ruth’s mother, Celia, had been a strong student but her parents would not let her go to college, saying the money had to be saved for her brother’s education. Celia didn’t want her daughter to have the same experience so she took an active role in Ruth’s education, urging her to study and go on to college. Unfortunately, on the day before Ruth’s high school graduation, Celia died from cancer complications.


  • After high school, RBG went to Cornell University where she met Martin D. Ginsburg. Ruth and Martin married a month after she graduated in June of 1954. They first lived in Oklahoma where Martin was stationed as a ROTC officer. For a while, she worked for the Social Security Administration even though she was demoted after the office learned she was pregnant. In those days, women were frequently not even allowed to work if pregnant. This was especially true of elementary and high school teachers.


"Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life.

Reading shaped my dreams,

and more reading helped me make my dreams come true.” RBG

  • Once her husband could move back East, RBG applied to the Harvard Law School, was accepted, and began work on her degree in the fall of 1956. She was one of only nine women in a class of about 500.

[NOTE: One of my close friends—Martha Craig Daughtry—had a similar experience almost a decade later. She was one of only three women in her Vanderbilt Law School class. She tells me that at that time, the three of them had no idea there was a quota for the number of women to be admitted. They just thought they were extremely fortunate.]

  • Shortly after classes began, the dean of the law school invited the female law students to dinner. He asked them, “Why are you at Harvard Law School, taking the place of a man?” I don’t know how RBG or any of the other women responded. What would you say?

  • When RBG’s husband took a position in New York City, Ruth wanted to move with him even though that would mean finding another way to complete her degree. The same dean who clearly did not value women in the Harvard law program denied her request to complete her third year at Columbia Law School. What did she do? She transferred to Columbia and became the first woman to work on two major law reviews: the Harvard Law Review and the Columbia Law Review. In 1959, she earned her law degree at Columbia, rather than Harvard, and tied for first in her class.

[And my friend? She attended law school on a scholarship. All men awarded scholarships had 100% covered. Women? All women awarded scholarships had 75% covered. This meant my friend had student debt when she finished — third in her class — while her male fellow students — no matter their rank — did not. This put an extra burden on her to get a good paying job.]


"Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” RBG

Early Career

  • By now, you see the pattern. So it is not surprising to learn that Ginsburg faced discrimination after receiving her law degree — even though it was from the prestigious Columbia Law School and even though she had tied for first in her class.

[A Side Note: Let me share another story told by my lawyer friend, called Cissy by her friends. She says, “Even though I’d graduated with honors and was on the Vanderbilt Law Review, it was hard to find a job. Nashville law firms were male-only dominions, and none would hire me. Next, I tried banks, but professional positions there were also reserved for men. One bank manager actually suggested I apply for a teller’s position since he wouldn’t consider me for an attorney’s position. The situation didn’t change, even after I passed the Tennessee bar. Why stay in Tennessee? My husband was pursuing his career in journalism and had a prized position at The Tennessean. Years later, he was known as a legendary political reporter. It was the right decision to stay, but I wasn’t going to be defeated. I went into private practice.”]


"Don't be distracted by emotions like anger, envy, resentment.

These just zap energy and waste time.” RBG

  • Like many law graduates, RBG sought a clerkship after graduation. Her professor, Albert Martin Sacks (later dean of the Harvard Law School), gave her a strong recommendation to Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. Frankfurter openly rejected her application because she was a woman. Fortunately, another Columbia law professor recommended her to Judge Edmund Palmieri of the US District Court for the Southern Distract of New York. The professor pushed and pushed, even threatening that he’d never send a Columbia Law graduate to Palmieri again if he didn’t hire her. As a final sweetener, he promised that if RBG didn’t work out, he would find a replacement clerk. Palmieri hired RBG and she was his valued clerk for two years before moving on in her career.

  • An experience in Sweden helped shape her views on women’s rights. Ginsburg, working as a research associate/associate director of the Columbia Law School Project on International Procedure, learned Swedish in order to co-author a book on civil procedure in Sweden. She went to Lund University to conduct interviews and during that time became close to the family of her co-author, Anders Bruzelius. She saw that women were 20-25 percent of all law students; she met a woman who was eight months pregnant and still working—not possible in the US; and perhaps most influential, she got to know her co-author’s daughter who later became a Norwegian supreme court justice as well as President of the Norwegian Association for Women’s Rights.

This concludes Part 1 of our discussion of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the many ways she can inspire all of us.

We hope you return next week when we conclude her story.


If you missed our previous blogs, you'll find them here:

Rosie the Riveter's Riveting Story -- Find out the connection to Jackie Kennedy's fashion designer and Rosalind Palmer Walter (major funder of public television).

No Teno Quah / Grace Thorpe - WW2 Service to Country and Service to Native American Community

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Mar 15, 2022

A fascinating life, thank you for this timeline on RBG.

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