Ruth Joan Bader, the second daughter of Nathan and Cecelia Bader grew up in a low-income, working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Ruth’s mother, a major influence in her life, taught her the value of independence and a good education. Cecelia herself did not attend college, but instead worked in a garment factory to help pay for her brother’s college education, an act of selflessness that forever impressed Ruth. At James Madison High School in Brooklyn, Ruth worked diligently and excelled in her studies. Sadly, her mother struggled with cancer throughout Ruth’s high school years, and died the day before Ruth’s graduation.
Bader graduated from Cornell University in 1954, finishing first in her class. She married Martin D. Ginsburg, also a law student, that same year. The early years of their marriage were challenging, as their first child, Jane, was born shortly after Martin was drafted into the military in 1954. He served for two years and, after his discharge, the couple returned to Harvard where Ruth also enrolled. At Harvard, Ruth learned to balance life as a mother and her new role as a law student. She also encountered a very male-dominated, hostile environment, with only eight females in her class of 500. The women were chided by the law school’s dean for taking the places of qualified males. But Ruth pressed on and excelled academically, eventually becoming the first female member of the prestigious legal journal, the Harvard Law Review.