Dear Members of the Sweet Briar Community,
Sweet Briar College’s mission is to educate women who can lead and improve the lives of others. You take pride in knowing that Sweet Briar women of every generation have challenged and surmounted obstacles to humankind’s progress. That is why I know, regardless of your political persuasion, you join me in mourning the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an example to us all of principled leadership.
Ginsburg, an ardent feminist with a brilliant legal mind, whose fame became so great that she was known by her initials RBG, spent her career fighting for women’s equality. Her life was filled with milestones, most notably, her appointment in 1993 as only the second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. But none of her many accomplishments came easily, because like other women of her time, she faced social, cultural, and legal barriers. We honor her because she did so much throughout her life to break those barriers down.
Ginsburg was one of only nine women in her class at Harvard Law School (where the dean asked the women to justify taking a place that would have gone to a male student). Later, she transferred to Columbia Law School and graduated at the top of her class, but then could not get hired by a blue-chip law firm. “I struck out on three grounds,” Ginsburg said later, “I was Jewish, a woman, and a mother.” Although recommended for a Supreme Court clerkship, she couldn’t get an interview because of her gender. When she became only the second woman on the faculty of the Rutgers Law School in 1963, she learned her salary was less than that of the male faculty members.
This kind of sexist discrimination against women was common. And it was legal – until Ginsburg argued and won a series of landmark cases before the Supreme Court during the 1970s. They laid the foundations for gender equality before the law by deploying in new ways the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Although the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution has never been ratified, Ginsburg’s determined efforts branded sexist laws as unconstitutional and abolished discrimination on the basis of gender. Later, as a Supreme Court Justice, in both her rulings and dissents, Ginsburg continued to fight for the rights and equality of all Americans. For this, we owe her a profound debt of gratitude and we salute her memory.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg made our world a better place. Improving the lives of those around us is something to which we should all aspire. In that spirit, we can best honor the life and legacy of Justice Ginsburg by ensuring that not only women, but all people everywhere, can flourish and fulfill their potential, free from oppression and discrimination.