The nation is in mourning after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A tireless advocate for women’s rights and equality, Ginsburg became a Supreme Court Justice during the Clinton era. RBG experienced a surge in popularity over the past decade when she became a feminist icon. There are memes aplenty featuring her image and notable quotes. She has also been the subject of a feature film (On The Basis of Sex) and a documentary (RBG). But comic fans can celebrate RBG’s life with a graphic novel that came out last year. Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Journey to Justice was written by Debbie Levy and published in 2019. Let’s take a look at the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the graphic novel that chronicles her life.
RBG Faced Sexist Discrimination That Would Define Her Career
August 2, 1935
Childhood photograph of Ruth Bader taken when she was two years old. | Image via Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States
Born Joan Ruth Bader in Brooklyn, NY on March 15, 1933. The woman who would become RBG started going by Ruth in elementary school to avoid confusion with other girls named Joan. She attended Cornell University where she met her future husband Marty. He was a law student who was the first boy ‘interested in the fact that Ruth had a brain.’
After graduating from Cornell, Ruth and Marty moved to Oklahoma where RBG worked at the Social Security Administration office. Ruth faced her own share of sexism over the years, she was demoted from her job when she became pregnant. RBG would later do the work to ensure that no woman would experience the same discrimination in the workplace.
A Woman In A Man’s World
Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School in 1956 and was one of only nine women in her class (along with 500 men). The Dean of Harvard Law once invited these female students to a dinner where he made them answer the question “Why are you at Harvard Law School, taking the place of a man?” RBG later transferred to Columbia Law School where she became the first woman to head two major law reviews: The Harvard Law Review and The Columbia Law Review. When she graduated from Columbia in 1959, RBG tied for first in her class and proved that she had every right to be at those schools.
In an interview with Slate earlier this year, RBG reflected on her difficult time at law school. She said that “One thing that I did feel in law school was that if I flubbed, that I would be bringing down my entire sex. That you weren’t just failing for yourself, but people would say, ‘Well, I did expect it of a woman.’ I was determined not to leave that impression.”
RBG Struggled To Find Work As A Female Lawyer
Image via Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States
Despite her accolades and accomplishments, RBG had difficulty finding work as a lawyer after graduating. Not one law firm in New York would give her a job because she was a woman. Instead she worked as a law clerk and a researcher at her alma mater of Columbia University. She obtained a job as a law professor at Rutgers in 1963. But she soon learned that she would be paid less than her male colleagues – because her husband had a well-paying job.
In 1970, RBG founded the first law journal that focused on women’s rights. She also co-authored the first law case-book on sex discrimination while teaching at Columbia. It was not until 1972 when she joined the ACLU that RBG’s real work in changing discriminatory laws really began.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg founded the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU in 1972. This was when she began to take on cases around gender and sex discrimination. She often chose cases with male defendants, to show that gender and sex discrimination hurts men as much as women. She became well known for her work as an equal rights advocate and a skilled and persuasive orator. In 1980 she was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals by President Jimmy Carter. She held this position until 1993, when she became the second woman ever to ascend to hold the position of Supreme Court Justice.
Fighting For Equal Rights As A Supreme Court Justice
Photograph via the White House, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a Supreme Court Justice for 27 years, fighting for equal rights in the law until the day she died on September 18, 2020. During her tenure RBG struck down male-only admissions policies; worked to ensure that women receive equal pay, and was a staunch advocate for abortion rights. Because of the work that RBG did, women can now open our own bank accounts; own our own homes, and choose when to have children.
A famous quote from Ginsburg about the need for more women on the Supreme Court is more relevant today than ever, as we face the possibility of yet another man taking her place on the Supreme Court. “I’m sometimes asked ‘When will there be enough women on the Supreme Court?’ And my answer is: ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”
Chronicling The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Image via Simon & Schuster
There are many books and various media that tell the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The graphic novel Becoming RBG is designed for kids and adults who want to learn more about the life of this extraordinary woman. It follows her life from a childhood in Brooklyn to her confirmation as a Supreme Court Justice. Written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Whitney Gardner, the graphic novel is easily accessible with a clear and colorful art style.
The biography adds many personal details that the general public may not be aware of. It mentions her sister who died from meningitis when Ruth was very young. RBG would become accustomed to tragedy unfortunately, as she also survived the death of her beloved mother when she was a teenager. She also survived the long illness and death of her husband Marty. But despite this grief, RBG never stopped working to ensure equal rights for all.
A Real Life Superhero
Ginsburg herself was first diagnosed with cancer in 1999. She did not miss one day on the bench while undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments. However this was only the first of five different cancer diagnoses that she would receive. Through an incredible strength of will and physical determination, RBG survived another full decade to work harder than ever. RBG has often been acclaimed as a real life superhero. She overcame extraordinary odds to and faced down death many times to keep fighting.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the holiday that celebrates the Jewish New Year. Book critic and writer Ruth Franklin says that “According to Jewish tradition, a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah is a tzaddik, a person of great righteousness.”
There is no better way to remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg than as a righteous person who fought for her entire life to improve the lives of others. Pick up Becoming RBG today to explore the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.