10 powerful RBG quotes: Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a way with words

'We have made huge strides, but we have not reached nirvana'

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was softly spoken, and her words were thoughtful and held weight.

A stalwart liberal and champion for women's rights on the US Supreme Court since 1993, Ginsburg died on Friday at the age of 87.

She was the second woman appointed to the US Supreme Court, and the first Jewish justice since 1969.

When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.

She was an eminently quotable woman, and as is common in 2020, many parts of the world are now collectively mourning her via Instagram stories, sharing the late New Yorker's own words via memes.

Here are 10 moments of wisdom from the trailblazer ...

Some of her last words...

"My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."

- NPR reports that this was Ginsburg’s final statement, dictated to her granddaughter Clara Spera from her deathbed.

On how she'd like 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. To do something, as my colleague David Souter would say, 'outside myself'. ‘Cause I’ve gotten much more satisfaction for the things that I’ve done for which I was not paid."

- In a 2015 interview with MSNBC.

On US politics

"I am optimistic in the long run. A great man once said the true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle, it's the pendulum, and when the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it will go back."

- Speaking to the BBC in 2017

Quoting another pioneering woman

“I ask no favour for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

- Ginsburg says this in 2018 Netflix documentary 'RBG', and while many attribute it to her because of the trailer, she is actually quoting Sarah Grimke. A force for reform in the US in the 19th century, Grimke was one of the first female agents of the American Anti-Slavery Society.

On influence and nuance

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

- Talking at Harvard Law School in 2015. This was her answer when asked what advice she would give women at the time.

On her and her mother

"What's the difference between a bookkeeper in New York's garment district, which my mother was, and a supreme court justice? The difference is one generation."

- Talking at Amherst College in 2019, where she also said to the crowd, "I would advise more listening, and less talking".

On not getting a single offer from a New York law firm after graduating

"I had three strikes against me, one I was Jewish, two I was a woman, but the killer was I was the mother of a four-year-old child."

- Speaking to CBS in 2016 about not getting any job offers despite graduating first in her class at Columbia Law School.

On unconscious bias

"We have made huge strides ... but we have not reached nirvana. There's still rampant discrimination on the basis of race, gender. It's true that most of the explicit classifications – men are treated this way, women that way – are gone from the law books. But what remains is what has been called unconscious bias. One excellent example of that is the symphony orchestra. In my growing up years I never saw a woman in a symphony orchestra, except perhaps a harp player.

"Howard Taubman (1907-1996), who was the very able critic for The New York Times said, 'blindfold me and I can tell you if it's a woman playing the piano or a man'. Someone decided to put him to the test. He was all mixed up. Then, someone got the even brighter idea. 'Let's drop a curtain between the people who are auditioning for membership in the orchestra and the judges, so they won't see a woman's or a man's face'. That simple device, a dropped curtain, led to an almost overnight change in the composition of symphony orchestras. Unfortunately we can't duplicate the dropped curtain in every field of human endeavour."

- Also talking at Amherst College in 2019, see that full discussion here:

On parenting

“Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”

- Speaking to The Record (New York Bar Association) in 2012

On the power of 'tuning out'

A candle sits as people gather outside of the U.S. Supreme Court following the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in Washington, U.S., September 19, 2020. REUTERS/Al Drago
A candle sits as people gather outside of the U.S. Supreme Court following the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Reuters

"Another often-asked question when I speak in public: 'Do you have some good advice you might share with us?' Yes, I do. It comes from my savvy mother-in-law, advice she gave me on my wedding day. 'In every good marriage,' she counseled, 'it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.'

"I have followed that advice assiduously, and not only at home through 56 years of a marital partnership nonpareil. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court of the United States. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade."

- From her 2016 book 'My Own Words'

Updated: September 20, 2020 11:36 AM


Editor's Picks
Sign up to:

* Please select one