In six years of writing columns for Inc.com, my most popular effort ever is this one: Want to Raise a Trail-Blazing Daughter? Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Says Do These 7 Things.

Millions of people have read it. It's about Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and it's largely based on a 2016 article she wrote. Given her reputation as a fiery liberal on the nation's highest court, people have very strong opinions.

Today marks the release of a new documentary about Ginsburg's life, appropriately called, RBG. So, here are 17 things to know about the notorious justice--most of them in her own words.

1. "Notorious RBG" was not her first nickname.

Ginsburg was born "Joan Ruth Bader," on March 15, 1933; she just celebrated her 85th birthday. Her childhood nickname was "Kiki," which her older sister gave her--apparently because she kicked a lot as a baby. At school however, it would seem "Joan" was the "Emma" of the 1930s, and her family started calling her by her middle name to be a bit more unique.

As for "Notorious RBG," however, Ginsburg says she loves it It's an homage of course to the late Notorious B.I.G. a/k/a Biggie Smalls, and it comes from a blog that a law student started about her.

2. She suffered tragedy as a child.

Ginsburg's older sister died when Ginsburg was only less than two, and her mother passed away literally the night before the future jurist's high school graduation.

"My mother was a powerful influence. She made me toe the line. If I didn't have a perfect report card, she showed her disappointment," Ginsburg said.

3. She met her husband at age 17.

They were classmates at Cornell University. Martin Ginsburg went on to become a highly regarded lawyer, and was known for having made sacrifices in his own career as his wife's took off.

Her mother law gave her good advice on her wedding day in 1954: "In every good marriage, it helps sometimes to be a little deaf."

4. She was sexually harassed by a Cornell University professor.

Ginsburg told the story in a discussion about #MeToo earlier this year:

"I am taking a chemistry course at Cornell and my instructor said, because I was uncertain about my ability, he said 'I'll give you a practice exam,'" she said. "So he gave me a practice exam. The next day, the test is the practice exam, and I knew exactly what he wanted in return."

5. She was punished at work for becoming pregnant.

Ginsburg and her husband married shortly after she graduated from college, and then went with him to Oklahoma, where he was stationed in the Army after ROTC.

She had her first child in 1955, when she was 21, and while she was working in the social security office. But she was demoted in that job, for becoming a mother.

6. A Harvard professor didn't treat her much better.

Ginsburg and her husband attended Harvard Law School together, although she later transferred to Columbia. At Harvard however, the law school dean tried to embarrass her once by asking her in front of other students how she could "justify taking a spot from a qualified man?"

"I was so embarrassed. ... But I gave him the answer he expected: "My husband is a second-year law student, and it's important for a woman to understand her husband's work.

7. She was on the law review at two prestigious law schools.

She made the law review at Harvard, but then transferred to Columbia when her husband, who was a year ahead of her, took a job in New York. Then, she made the law review there, too.

8. Later, another professor went to bat for her.

Ginsburg graduated near the top of her law school class, but struggled to get a job, largely due to sexual discrimination. So one of her professors strong-armed a federal judge to give her a clerkship.

"The professor made an offer to the judge. He said if you give her a chance, I have arranged for a young man in my class who is going to a Wall Street firm, if she doesn't work out he'll jump in and take over," Ginsburg said. "That was the carrot. And the stick was, if you don't give her a chance, I'll never recommend another Columbia student."

9. She speaks Swedish.

Why? Because she traveled to Sweden in the early 1960s for research and to write a book. She said that's also when she began to think strongly about women's equality.

"Between 20 and 25 percent of the law students in Sweden were women. And there were women on the bench," she later said. "I went to one proceeding in Stockholm where the presiding judge was eight months pregnant. There was also a journalist who wrote a column in the Swedish daily paper: "Why should women have two jobs, and men only one?" Inflation was high, and two incomes were often needed. But it was the woman who was expected to buy the kids new shoes and have dinner on the table at 7. I remember listening to those conversations. 

10. She was paid less for being married.

Ginsburg became a law professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, from 1963 to 1972, but the university insisted on paying her less than her colleagues at first, because they assumed that a married woman didn't need a salary as much.

11. She went 5-1 arguing at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ginsburg left academia to work with the ACLU in the 1970s, and she wound up arguing six gender discrimination cases at the Supreme Court. She won five of them.

During this time, her secretary advised her not to use the word "sex" before the all-male judges, for fear of distracting them. So, she started referring to gender discrimination instead of sex discrimination.

12. She's been a judge for 38 years.

Her first judicial position was as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to which she was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. There was some irony to this, as she hadn't been able to get an appellate court clerkship as a young lawyer, likely due to her gender.

President Clinton appointed her to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993.

13. She was the first Supreme Court justice to marry a gay couple.

Married were Michael Kaiser, head of the Kennedy Center in Washington, and economist John Roberts. The ceremony took place in 2013, just after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in the U.S.

Ginsburg also had the distinction of being the third woman to administer the oath of office to a president or vice-president: Vice President Gore, in 1997.

14. She lost her husband in 2010.

The Ginsburgs celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary on June 23, 2010, but Martin Ginsburg died a week later.

"I have had more than a little bit of luck in life, but nothing equals in magnitude my marriage to Martin D. Ginsburg. I do not have words adequate to describe my supersmart, exuberant, ever-loving spouse," she later wrote, adding, "I betray no secret in reporting that, without him, I would not have gained a seat on the Supreme Court."

15. Her best friend on the high court was her ideological opponent, the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

"He's a very funny man," she said before his death. "We both love opera. And we care about writing. His style is spicy, but we care about how we say it.

16. She works out with an Army Special Forces veteran.

At age 85, and a cancer survivor, Ginsburg's continued health is a great concern not only to her, but to progressives and liberals. Part of her secret to health, she says, is her twice-weekly gym sessions, led by trainer Bryant Johnson, who served in the military and now works as a government clerk by day.

"When I started, I looked like a survivor of Auschwitz," Ginsburg told The Washington Post. "Now I'm up to 20 push-ups."

17. She says she's "had it all," just not all at once.

'I just read Anne-Marie Slaughter's book," Ginsburg said in an interview. (I'm pretty sure she's talking here about Unfinished Business). "She talked about "we don't have it all." Who does? I've had it all in the course of my life, but at different times.

Published on: May 4, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.