20 Fierce Quotes from the Irrepressible Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1977

Image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg © Lynn Gilbert 1978

This month, as we mourn Ruth’s loss and celebrate her achievements, we’re also enjoying 20 selected Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes.

For those of you not in North America, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a Supreme Court Justice in the United States. She died a few weeks ago leaving an important gap on the Supreme Court and there is a big political battle going on as to whether her spot should be filled before – or after – the election.

In her 27 years as a Supreme Court Judge, and before that 13 years as a Federal Appeals Court Judge, she dissented on and had a lasting impact on many legal cases of great importance to US Law.

Below you’ll find a short background history, followed by the Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes and finally, a short Fierce Kindness practice to help you reflect and grow from the quotes. Enjoy!

Jump straight to the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quotes here >>

Who was Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1953

Ruth in 1953 when a Senior at Cornell University

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born Joan Ruth Bader, in Brooklyn, New York on March 15, 1933. She died this year (2020) on September 18 at the age of 87 of complications from pancreatic cancer. Her death has left a hole in the Supreme Court of the United States, and thousands of people left candles, flowers and messages out front of the Supreme Court building mourning her loss.

Ruth’s heritage is Ukrainian and Polish. Her father had emigrated from Odessa in Ukraine – which was then part of the Russian empire. And her mother while born in New York, had parents who had emigrated from Krakow in Poland.

Ruth’s family nickname was “Kiki” because she was apparently a kicky baby. And it was when she started school that she became Ruth – because there were several Joans already in her class.

It seems Ruth was a leader from an early age, becoming a summer camp counsellor, editing the school newspaper and writing articles on the Bill of Rights as well as helping to organize social events.

But she did not get to attend her high school graduation as her mother died the day before the ceremony. Despite being a good student, Ruth’s mother had missed out on a university education at the expense of her brother, and so had actively encouraged Ruth to be an independent, educated woman. This continued to inspire Ruth throughout her life.

Following high school, Ruth got her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, and then went to law school at Harvard – transferring to Columbia Law School and going on to graduate joint first in her class. She was one of few women in class and throughout her career would call attention to gender-based inequity.

Ruth Bader met her husband to be, Martin Ginsburg, on a blind date in 1951, and married him 3 years later just after graduating from Cornell. She had a daughter Jane Ginsburg in 1955 and a son, James Steven Ginsburg in 1965. She is known for celebrating the mutual support between her and her husband in raising their children – and credits her husband’s support as essential to enabling her career to succeed while raising a family together.

A 2016 Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

A 2016 Portrait of Ruth as a Supreme Court Justice

Interestingly, apparently Ruth was not a great cook, so Martin was the chef of the household – cooking for the many dinner parties they held. Martin sounds like a wonderful husband. Sadly he died in 2010 – just days after celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary.

Some of Ruth’s career highlights include being inspired by the gender equality she saw while working in Sweden. In fact she learned the Swedish language while co-authoring a book on international law procedure with Swede Anders Bruzelius.

Ruth taught civil procedure (unusual for a woman) at Rutgers Law School (1963-72) and Columbia Law School (1972-80), becoming the first tenured female law professor at Columbia. During this time she also volunteered in several capacities for the American Civil Liberties Union, in particular co-founding the Women’s Rights Project in 1972 – working on it until her appointment to the Federal Bench as an Appeals Court Judge in 1980.

When nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993, Ruth was only the second woman justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and the first Jewish female justice.

There is so much more to Ruth Bader Ginsburg – her friendships, volunteering, career achievements and attitudes – than I could begin to share here.

A free thinker, she was known as a dissenter on important topics. Specifically she advanced the rights of women, people with disabilities, both black and indigenous peoples, fought for fair pay and health care for all, increased environmental protection, and helped maintain the independence of US government scientific research agencies.

Ruth as the Notorious RBG

Ruth pictured as the Notorious B.I.G. Rapper!

In short, Ruth worked to make American society a better place for all – yet the impacts of her work stretch far beyond American borders.

Fun facts:

  • She worked with a personal trainer twice a week and in a session before her 80th birthday completed 20 push-ups!
  • Ruth was only 5ft 1in tall (about 155cm).
  • She earned the nickname “The Notorious R.B.G”, named after the rapper The Notorious B.I.G. and becoming a popular icon.

If you’d like to learn more of the facts, check out the Wikipedia entry here.
And see some fun photos of Ruth as a toddler and beyond here 

Here are 20 of my Favourite Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quotes:Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quote Graphic

I’ve separated the quotes into the first 10 quotes – about life more generally, and the second 10 are some quotes on women’s rights and diversity.

Which of these quotes most speak to you?

10 Inspiring Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quotes

  1. “To make life a little better for people less fortunate than you, that’s what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for oneself but for one’s community.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  2. “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  3. “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  4. “So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  5. “Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  6. “I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  7. “Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  8. “Don’t be distracted by emotions like anger, envy, resentment. These just zap energy and waste time.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  9. “You can disagree without being disagreeable.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  10. “[I want to be remembered as] someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg

10 Bonus Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quotes – on Feminism and Diversity

  1. “My mother was very strong about my doing well in school and living up to my potential.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  2. “Our system of justice is surely richer for the diversity of background and experience of its judges. It was poorer when nearly all of its participants were cut from the same mold.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  3. “Women will only have true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  4. “When 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.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  5. “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  6. “My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  7. “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  8. “For both men and women the first step in getting power is to become visible to others, and then to put on an impressive show. . . . As women achieve power, the barriers will fall. As society sees what women can do, as women see what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things, and we’ll all be better off for it.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  9. “If you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it. I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his, and I think that made all the difference for me.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  10. “Rabbi Alfred Bettleheim once said: ‘Prejudice saves us a painful trouble, the trouble of thinking.’ ” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Here’s your Fierce Kindness “Quotes Practice”

To go deeper, here are 3 next steps:

As you know, one of the core principles of Fierce Kindness is creating a deep connection with yourself. So:

  1. Consider which of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes above:
    • Most UNSETTLES you &
    • Most RESONATES with you?
  2. Write out these 2 quotes in your journal and ponder these questions over a quiet cup of tea or coffee:
    • WHY do you think you were drawn to them?
    • WHAT do you think the quote is trying to say to YOU specifically?
    • What are some IDEAS you’ve been having, of changes you could make in your life – however small?
  3. Finally, to go even deeper, put your 2 chosen quotes somewhere you’ll see them often. And then over the next month, make an effort to notice the quotes – and each time you do, ask:
    • What is this quote teaching me today/now?


I hope you enjoyed these quotes from another inspiring and daring woman.

And if you’re looking for an inspiring movie to watch, you could try the 2018 film On The Basis of Sex which according to IMDB shares “her struggles for equal rights, and the early cases of a historic career that lead to her nomination and confirmation as U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice”. Although many criticised the movie, apparently Ruth herself loved it!

If you liked this Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes article, try:

Which was your favourite quote? If I missed it, comment below and share it!

Image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg at desk in 1977 by Lynn Gilbert via Wikipedia

Image of Studio Photograph of Ruth Bader in 1953 via Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as Supreme Court Justice in 2016 via Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Placard during 2018 women’s march as the Notorious B.I.G. by Montana Suffragettes

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