No one can deny that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life made history in a number of ways. And her recent death on September 18, 2020 made history as well, triggering a wave of passionate mourning as well as a bitter political fight over her Supreme Court replacement.
Interestingly, there are many things about Ginsburg’s life that even her biggest fans and major opponents don’t know about. Here, then, are 10 things you didn’t know about Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a historic (and very busy) college student
Ginsburg is rightly remembered as a champion for women and women’s rights. And she experienced much discrimination along the way, dating back to her time at Harvard Law School.
When she enrolled in 1956, she was one of only nine women in a class of 500 law students. Despite her academic accomplishments (including serving on the Harvard Law Review), Ginsburg was constantly asked how it felt to be taking up spots usually reserved for more “deserving” male students.
And even while fighting off this ignorance and misogyny, she was taking care of a young baby at home. Talk about keeping busy!
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a night owl
Ginsburg had a good relationship with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court justice. And the latter tried to bond with Ginsburg by inviting her to her 8 a.m. aerobics class. This was how O’Connor learned an interesting fact about her colleague.
According to The Washington Post, Ginsburg instantly told her “I am a night person.” Furthermore, simply “getting to work by 9:30 every morning was enough.” It turns out that even RBG had trouble waking up and getting to work.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a big fan of pushups
While Ginsburg did not attend that early morning aerobics class with O’Connor, she still got in her daily workouts. And that included doing at least 20 pushups each day.
Ginsburg had a daily routine that involved doing 10 pushups, breathing, and then doing another 10. And after that, she would plank for 30 seconds. Ginsburg had a personal trainer to help with this, and the trainer ended up making headlines after her passing.
When she was lying in state, her trainer actually dropped down and did pushups in front of her casket. This puzzled many onlookers, but it was actually a fitting tribute to the fitness-minded justice.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a surprising friendship with Antonin Scalia
In both life and death, RBG is typically thought of as a polarizing political figure. And many thought she must have had a bitter rivalry with her more conservative colleagues as they decided on the biggest cases in the land.
Interestingly, though, she had a good working relationship and even a personal friendship with the hyper-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. After Scalia passed, RBG said (via Bisnow) she missed “the challenges and laughter” that Scalia brought to the table. And when the two of them weren’t chewing the legal fat, they enjoyed talking about their families and even attending opera together.
Their shared love of opera even inspired a new opera based on their friendship! The opera, called Scalia/Ginsburg, was written by American composer-librettist Derrick Wang and premiered in 2015.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg continued working despite multiple cancer diagnoses
Part of why Ginsburg was so admired was her reaction to her cancer diagnoses. She didn’t just deal with cancer for much of her life. Instead, she took it on with grace and style.
For example, she heeded Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s advice and started doing her chemo on Friday. The reason was simple: so she could recover over the weekend and get back to work on Monday!
She may not have been a morning person, but RBG went through hell on many weekends so she could come in swinging on Monday morning.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg had complex thoughts about women’s roles in her Jewish faith
Many people don’t realize that Ginsburg has a proud Jewish heritage. But she also had some very complex thoughts about her faith during her life.
For example, at age 13 she wrote an essay wondering why boys had a bar mitzvah ceremony but “there was no comparable ceremony for me.” (Comparable ceremonies for girls, called bat mitzvahs, have become more common over the years in reform and conservative synagogues.)
Her thoughts on women’s roles in Orthodox Judaism didn’t end there. Ginsburg revealed that after her mother died, she resented that men were needed in order to hold the mourning service. “In order for there to be a minyan we needed to have 10 men — even though there were many women [mourning],” she told Bustle in 2016. (A minyan is a group of 10 men required for traditional Jewish public worship.)
These complex thoughts continued much later in life, too. She also felt constrained by Orthodox services that require women to sit in a different area from men. She felt very boxed in after spending a lifetime fighting for female equality.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a long-term planner
In life and death, Ginsburg was often criticized for her thoughts and decisions. For example, she controversially opposed the idea of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, a Supreme Court decision that forever changed the landscape of campaign finance law.
Why? Because she is a long-term planner, and despite thinking Citizens United was a major mistake, she thought reversing it would open the door to reversing other key decisions such as Roe v. Wade.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was influenced by her mother
Ginsburg’s mother passed away shortly before she graduated high school. Despite this, RBG counts her mother as one of the most influential figures in her life.
Her mother took her to the library from a very young age, and this instilled a lifetime love of learning. And Ginsburg likely learned a lot about fighting cancer as she watched her mother fight against the ravages of cervical cancer for as long as possible.
How influential was Ginsburg’s mother? When President Bill Clinton announced his nomination of Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, Ginsburg made a speech celebrating her mother. She said that her mom was “the bravest and strongest person I have known, who was taken from me much too soon. I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve, and daughters are cherished as much as sons.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s family members also had cancer struggles
After her passing, many people were shocked to learn just how extensive Ginsburg’s cancer was and how long she had been fighting cancer. Sadly, she learned to fight cancer by watching some of the ones closest to her pass away.
As we mentioned, her mother died of cervical cancer when Ginsburg was still a teenager. And her husband, Martin D. Ginsburg, died of testicular cancer back in 2010. How these family members faced death with dignity and grace was surely an inspiration to RBG during her own cancer treatments.
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Ruth Bader Ginsburg had surprising hobbies
It’s almost impossible to think about Ginsburg without remembering all of her Supreme Court regalia. But when she wasn’t doing legal work, this famous justice had a number of interesting hobbies.
She enjoyed watching movies and reading mysteries (those of Amanda Cross and Dorothy L. Sayers were her favorites). Ginsburg also liked golfing, horseback riding, and water skiing.
And her love of opera enabled her with some interesting opportunities. She appeared as a supernumerary (a non-speaking extra) in Washington National Opera’s 1994 production of Ariadne auf Naxos, alongside her pal Justice Scalia.