There’s a reason Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020) was known as the “Notorious R.B.G.” by her admirers. She was only the second woman to be appointed to serve on the US Supreme Court, but she was breaking glass ceilings long before then. In 1956, she joined Harvard law school, where she was one of nine women in a 500-person class, before transferring to Columbia Law School in 1959, where she graduated first in her class.
The 60s weren’t quite ready for her though: her exceptional academic record was not enough to shield her from gender-based discrimination in the workplace. She faced great difficulty in finding a job, and even had to hide her pregnancy with loose clothing from colleagues. At the time, only a very small percentage of lawyers in the United States were women, and only two women had ever served as federal judges.
Driven by this, Ginsburg spent a considerable part of her legal career as an advocate for the advancement of gender equality and women's rights. During the 1970s, she was a leading figure in gender-discrimination litigation; she argued before the Supreme Court six times, winning five cases. She continues to challenge the norm today, becoming the first Supreme Court justice to officiate at a same-sex marriage ceremony in 2013.
Ginsburg received attention for her fiery dissents and refusal to step down – or slow down. Until the 2018 term, she had not missed a day of oral arguments, not even throughout her treatments for two different cancers or the day after her husband passed away in 2010.