A Tour of the ‘Notorious RBG’ Exhibition With Son James Ginsburg


UPDATE, Sept. 18, 2020: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Dies at 87

When she was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed by a 96-3 vote. Seen as a moderate, she became good friends with the conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. Years later, she wrote a series of fiery dissents that sealed her notoriety.

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Now a local museum is taking a look at the Notorious RBG. We visited the exhibition with a Chicago man who just happens to be her son.

TRANSCRIPT

Brandis Friedman: There are surprising personal photos, robes to try on, even tchotchkes in the gift shop.

It all emerged from a fan-based blog and subsequent book.

We’re here at “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” It’s an exhibition based off of a book of the same name that was published in 2015.

Arielle Weininger, Illinois Holocaust Museum: Our museum looks at the history of the Holocaust and larger historical messages about social justice. We want to move visitors from history into action, and there’s no better person to look at who’s committed her entire life to social justice than Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Friedman: And there are home movies of the Justice and her late husband Martin Ginsburg, and courtroom sketches and yearbook photos of the young woman born Joan Ruth Bader.

  • “Notorious RBG” book cover illustration by Adam Johnson. Courtesy of HarperCollins. Photographs: Crown © by Hurst Photo/Shutterstock; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

    “Notorious RBG” book cover illustration by Adam Johnson. Courtesy of HarperCollins. Photographs: Crown © by Hurst Photo/Shutterstock; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

  • Official portrait of United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg. (Courtesy of WDC photos / Alamy Stock Photo)

    Official portrait of United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg. (Courtesy of WDC photos / Alamy Stock Photo)

  • RBG as a federal appeals court judge, 1980. Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

    RBG as a federal appeals court judge, 1980. Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

  • RBG and Marty taking a break from work, 1972. Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

    RBG and Marty taking a break from work, 1972. Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

  • “Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” by Everett Raymond Kinstler, 1996. Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Everett Raymond Kinstler. © 1996 Everett Raymond Kinstler.

    “Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” by Everett Raymond Kinstler, 1996. Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Everett Raymond Kinstler. © 1996 Everett Raymond Kinstler.

  • Ari Richter, “RBG Tattoo II,” 2018. Pigmented human skin on glass. Courtesy of the artist.

    Ari Richter, “RBG Tattoo II,” 2018. Pigmented human skin on glass. Courtesy of the artist.

  • Maira Kalman, “Ruth as a Young Girl,” 2009. © Maira Kalman. Courtesy Julie Saul Gallery, New York.

    Maira Kalman, “Ruth as a Young Girl,” 2009. © Maira Kalman. Courtesy Julie Saul Gallery, New York.

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg teaching at Columbia Law School, 1972. Courtesy of Columbia Law School.

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg teaching at Columbia Law School, 1972. Courtesy of Columbia Law School.

  • RBG and Marty with their daughter, Jane, 1958. Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

    RBG and Marty with their daughter, Jane, 1958. Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

  • Ruth Bader as a child, 1935. Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

    Ruth Bader as a child, 1935. Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Weininger: There are also a wide variety of objects that are on loan from the Justice herself, from the Supreme Court and even the Smithsonian.

Friedman: We toured the exhibit with her son, who dropped out of the University of Chicago law school to start Cedille Records – the Chicago classical music label.

We asked him about life at home.

James Ginsburg, son of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Well I didn’t know it was too different from other households at the time, growing up in the ‘70s with two working parents — two pretty high-powered working parents — but you know dinner time was family time, and they were there to make sure I did my homework and the rest so it felt normal to me.

Music was always playing in the household, and that was something that I obviously glommed onto at a young age. My parents had the classic recordings of the era, like the Toscanini Beethoven Symphonies. By the time I was seven I was starting to collect my own recordings.

Not all my classmate’s mothers’ worked, so I knew that was a little bit different, but it was much more different for my sister who’s 10 years older than me. I like to tell the story of when she was on a playdate, she was 5 or 6, and overheard her friend’s mother say “Be nice to Jane. Her mommy works.”

Friedman: And work she did.

She co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU at the beginning of the ‘70s. She’d been teaching at Rutgers and then she became the first tenured woman professor at Columbia, and then in 1980 was appointed to the Appeals Court in Washington.

Friedman: Now in her 27th year on the Supreme Court, RBG has a touring museum exhibit that aims to please both fans and legal scholars.

Weininger: There is a quote in the exhibition itself that she has tried in her life to take the skills and abilities that she had and put them, with very hard work and effort, into the things that she found the most important, and that was to work for gender equality and to fight injustice in her work. I think she would encourage us all to do the same.


More on this story

The exhibition “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” is on view at the recently reopened Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie through Jan. 3, 2021.

We asked her son James Ginsburg a story about RBG reading legal briefs while on golf outings with her husband.

“We had a very loving household, as I said, but weekends were on the golf course with both my parents,” James Ginsburg said. “My father was an avid golfer. He was on the Cornell golf team and so golf was sort of our weekend family thing at the country club, and of course there was also a pool at the country club and things I could enjoy besides golf. I did play with them as well because my father was a serious golfer so, you know, he’s seriously into every shot to maintain his 7 handicap. My mother was literally along for the ride. She played but between every shot she’d sit in the back of the golf cart and read her briefs on whatever case she was working on.”

Note: This story was first published on Feb. 17, 2020. It has been updated.


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