A Gallery Guide for Kids (age 8 and above) and Grown-ups
Who is Ruth Bader Ginsburg?
Discuss with your group before exploring the exhibition: What do you already know about Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG)?
RBG was born on March 15, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York. She earned her B.A. from Cornell University, attended Harvard Law School, and received her LL.B from Columbia Law School. Her long and distinguished law career culminated in her serving as the second woman, and first Jewish woman, on the Supreme Court of the United States.
What is the Supreme Court?
The Supreme Court is the highest court of law in the United States. It is currently made up of nine justices who are appointed for life and their job is to interpret the US Constitution and US law.
What does a Supreme Court justice do?
A Supreme Court justice interprets the US Constitution and US law by hearing arguments and making decisions on cases. The cases a justice hears have come from lower appeals courts. Every year, the Supreme Court receives petitions to hear thousands of cases but only a small fraction (the ones deemed the most important) are heard and decided by the justices.
Find and examine the infographic titled “Branches of US Government.”
What are the three branches of the US government? And which branch does the Supreme Court belong to?
Discuss with your group: Why do you think it is beneficial to have three separate branches of government?
Extra credit: Read the section titled “Things to Know about the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS)” (below the infographic) to discover some surprising facts!
Find the court sketch of RBG reading her dissent in the case titled “Shelby County v. Holder.”
Take a closer look at the expression on RBG’s face. What are three adjectives you could use to describe her emotions at this moment? Why do you think the sketch artist chose to capture this exact moment?
How did Ginsburg earn the nickname “Notorious RBG”?
Ask each other, what do you think of when you hear that someone is notorious? The word means famous or well known, but can also be associated with a negative quality. Similar words are legendary, scandalous, or infamous.
In 2013 RBG wrote a fiery response (officially known as a dissent) disagreeing with the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. This bold dissent (and a few others made around the same time) earned her the nickname “Notorious RBG” in reference to the Brooklyn-born rapper Christopher Wallace, also known as “The Notorious B.I.G.” and “Biggie Smalls.”
With Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court decided to end part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This Act prohibited states from having laws that made it harder for Black Americans to vote. The Voting Rights Act also made it harder for states with a history of racial discrimination to make future changes to their voting laws–but Shelby County v. Holder reversed that.
RBG felt strongly that this ruling could lead to more restrictions in voting, negatively impacting Black and minority communities.
Discuss with your group: Do you think notorious is a good word to describe RBG? Ginsburg and the Wallace family both appreciated the connection between them. But while the nickname is generally seen as playful and positive for the white, professional-class Ginsburg, a young Black man with the nickname notorious might bring people to a different, less-favorable conclusion.
Keep thinking and talking about when and why we assign names and attributes across race, class, and gender. For instance, when people compared RBG to Justice Thurgood Marshall (the first Black Supreme Court Justice) she often replied that while she learned from Marshall’s legal strategy, “My life was never in danger. His was.”
Find and read the list titled “Just Some of the Things Women Couldn’t Do in the 1930s and 1940s.”
Which item on the list was the most surprising?
Discuss with your group: Did anyone in your circle live through a time when any of the items on the list were true? Are any of the items on the list still true today?
Think outside the box: What were some things that RBG (an affluent, educated, and cisgender woman) could do, that other people in the 1930s and 1940s could not?
Who is Martin D. Ginsburg?
Martin D. Ginsburg, called “Marty,” was RBG’s husband. Marty and RBG met as undergraduates at Cornell University, were married in 1954, and raised two children (Jane and James) together. Their marriage was an unusual one in that it defied many of the gender expectations of the time. Marty and RBG worked as equals when it came to raising their family and he was a passionate supporter of her career aspirations.
Look for photos of a young Marty and a young RBG in the exhibition.
Discuss with your group: What are some things you could not do without support? Support can be emotional (e.g. cheering someone up when they’re down), physical (e.g. carrying something bulky and heavy as a team), logistical (e.g. running an errand that someone else doesn’t have time to run), and so much more.
Marty Ginsburg was a tax partner at the New York City-based law firm Weil (they are also sponsoring this exhibition).
In addition to working at a law firm like Marty or working as a judge on a court like RBG, there are many other examples of types of jobs lawyers can have.
Match the job title with the work!
Lawyers are also needed in all sorts of sectors and industries. From the education system to the criminal justice system, from for-profit companies to nonprofit organizations and government, lawyers are needed in virtually every type of organization.
Some lawyers practice law in their day-to-day roles, while other lawyers do not practice law but use their legal education and experience to contribute to important arenas such as managing finances, overseeing HR, and much more.
What do all types of lawyers have in common?
All lawyers must attend law school!
Find the section of the exhibition titled “Law School.”
RBG attended not one, but two, prestigious Ivy League law schools. What are the two law schools she attended?
What life events prompted RBG to transfer from one law school to another?
Discuss with your group: Have you ever had to switch schools? Why did you have to make the switch and how did you feel about it?
What is the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project (WRP)?
Find and read the wall panel titled “Women’s Rights Project.” What are the three missions of the ACLU’s WRP?
RBG developed a unique legal strategy at the WRP. At an organization dedicated to women’s rights, many of her clients were male. In taking on male clients in sex discrimination cases, RBG was able to demonstrate that strict gender roles did not solely affect women. They hurt everybody.
Listen to the interview with Stephen C. Wiesenfeld and read the wall panel titled “Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld.”
Discuss with your group: Why do you think RBG would have held a special affection for this particular client (Wiesenfeld) and this particular case?
How many women have served on the Supreme Court?
Since the US Supreme Court was established in 1789, only five women have served as Associate Justices. Those extraordinary women are Sandra Day O’Connor (nominated in 1981), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (nominated in 1993), Sonia Sotomayor (nominated in 2009), Elena Kagan (nominated in 2010), and Amy Coney Barrett (nominated in 2020). Fun fact! Three of the five are from New York City, representing three different boroughs: Sotomayor, the Bronx; Kagan, Manhattan; and RBG, Brooklyn.
The painted group portrait above (completed prior to Barrett’s nomination), shows RBG with the female justices she served with during her time on the Supreme Court.
Find an enlarged photograph taken of the four women featured in the painted group portrait.
At the time the photograph was taken, O’Connor had retired while the other three women were currently serving on the Supreme Court. RBG, Sotomayor, and Kagan are dressed in their court robes. RBG was often asked when there would be enough women on the Supreme Court. She replied, “When there are nine.”
Take a closer look at the photograph to notice the personal touches added to their uniform black robes. Why do you think it’s important to have a variety of perspectives among the nine Supreme Court Justices?
Want to be like RBG?
Head over to the bench for your final stop.
Think about how you could further RBG’s legacy, in your own way.
RBG served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1993 until her death in 2020. Although rather tiny in stature, she left an enormous mark on the legal and cultural landscape of the United States.
Take a seat on the bench, and pose for a portrait of your very own! (You can even try out this filter on Instagram to give your selfie a RBG look.)
Please share your photograph with us @nyhistory, and tag it #NotoriousRBG.
Lead sponsorship for Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg at New-York Historical is provided by Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. Specialized content for this gallery guide has been provided by the Weil Social Responsibility and Foundation team.
Major sponsorship is provided by Northern Trust.
Generous additional support is provided by Helen and Robert Appel and Bernard and Denise Schwartz.
Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Evelyn & Seymour Neuman Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.