Illustrations by Ario Murti; Shutterstock.com (background)

History Makers: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

She fought to make sure women had the same rights as men.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg looked around her college classroom. The year was 1956. There were more than 500 students in her class at Harvard Law School. Only nine were women.

Ginsburg was born in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York. She grew up in a time when men could become anything they wanted. But there were few options for women who wanted to work outside the home. She would help change that.

A Rough Start

It wasn’t easy, though. Ginsburg graduated from law school at the top of her class in 1959. Still, she struggled to find a job. Most companies refused to hire women, especially mothers. They thought Ginsburg would be too busy taking care of her daughter to do a good job.

Eventually, Ginsburg found work as a law professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. She was one of only 20 female law professors in the U.S. But she was making less money than male professors at the school. Ginsburg filed a lawsuit against Rutgers—and won. It was just the beginning of her fight for equal rights.

Dreaming Big

In the 1970s, Ginsburg worked for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The group’s goal is to end discrimination, or the unfair treatment of certain groups of people.

In her job at the ACLU, Ginsburg argued six cases before the Supreme Court, the nation’s highest court. Though she was a lifelong champion of women’s rights, Ginsburg fought for equality for all.

Ginsburg dreamed of one day becoming a Supreme Court justice. But there were few female judges in the U.S. government at the time.

“It wouldn’t be a realistic ambition for a woman to want to become a federal judge,” she recalled many years later.

Joining the Court

Ginsburg continued to work hard and prove herself. After years of working as a lawyer, she finally became a federal judge. Then, in 1993, Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court. She was only the second female justice. For 27 years, Ginsburg used her position on the Court to fight for human rights. She fought for equal pay and equal opportunities. She was respected for working well with judges who had different opinions than she did.

Ginsburg died in 2020, at the age of 87. People across the country vowed to honor her memory by continuing her fight.

“I try to teach through my opinions, through my speeches, how wrong it is to judge people on the basis of what they look like, the color of their skin, whether they’re men or women,” Ginsburg once said.

1. What is the section “A Rough Start” mostly about?

2. What did Ginsburg fight for while working for the ACLU?

3. What was Ginsburg’s ambition? How did she achieve it?

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