A Tribute to the Life and Legacy of RBG Comes to the New-York Historical Society; ‘Not Done Yet’

Photographs by Lisa Radla.

By Lisa Radla

A traveling exhibition originating at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has arrived at the New-York Historical Society on West 77th Street and Central Park West. It couldn’t be more timely, as the Supreme Court’s failure to block the restrictive Texas abortion law reverberates across the nation. Now, until January 23, 2022, museum-goers can revisit the struggles — and the successes — of an earlier era through the life and legacy of the late Supreme Court justice and civil rights pioneer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Just inside the gallery, the sound of Ginsburg’s Brooklyn accent greets you, a younger Ruth than most are familiar with. A video of Judge Ginsburg, then in her sixties, clad in a blue dress with her brown hair pulled back in a blue scrunchie, plays on a loop. She is fielding questions during her 1993 confirmation hearings from various United States senators who would ultimately and easily affirm her nomination with a 96 to 3 vote.

Visitors move through Ginsburg’s life, from the teenage girl who was named “camp rabbi” at Camp Che-Na-Wah in 1948, to a photo of her as the maid of honor at a friend’s wedding in 1951, and a 3D rendering of a room in her childhood Brooklyn home. Just around the corner from this part of the show is a striking placard listing “Some of the Things Women Couldn’t Do in the 1930s and 1940s.”

During that time, women could not practice law, receive equal pay for equal work, attend a military academy or an Ivy League school, sit on a jury, wear pants on the U.S. Senate floor, own property without a man in control of it, or open a bank account without a man’s permission. The striking part is not just how antediluvian those things were, but how this tiny woman became the larger-than-life icon who would go on to obliterate them.

This tiny woman became a larger-than-life icon.

Ginsburg’s life’s mission, as the exhibit notes, was to secure the promise of the Constitution’s “We the People” for all people. To do that, she first went to Cornell, where she graduated at the top of her class. At Harvard Law School, she became the first female member of the school’s Law Review before graduating first in her class from Columbia Law School (while residing at 404 West 116th Street).

Soon after, the woman’s right’s champion was arguing cases on the federal circuit and before the Supreme Court of the United States. The retrospective devotes larger signage to some of those cases. But there is a smaller section that is equally important. Titled “Litigating Equality,” it details RBG’s role in a number of other cases, including the legal battle against the forced sterilization of black women and the fight to ensure equal rights for pregnant women and for men who were denied survivor benefits on gender-based distinctions.

Museum staff advise at the start of the show that photography is allowed in only two places: one is the giant red collage when you first enter, and the other, fortunately, is at the very end. In an exhibit containing true gems of information and artifact, where visitors were multigenerational, cross cultural, and included slightly more women than men, the end might be the crown jewel.

Essentials (including the scrunchie.)

Next to the 3D rendering of the nation’s highest court is a glass enclosure. In it, is Ginsburg’s robe and dissenting collar, her blue scrunchie, and a pair of her white gloves that she initially wore at the suggestion of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to keep herself safe while she was going though chemotherapy for colon cancer.

There is a very real portrayal of an icon’s accomplishments detailed throughout. Palpable is the sense of loss and pride, made tangible by the sniffles, deep sighs, and tears of many who silently read and learned about the struggles fought for them by RBG.

Across from her personal items are photographs of the citywide remembrances, mementos, and signs mourners left after Justice Ginsburg passed away on September 18, 2020. “This wasn’t her court but she told me it could be mine,” read one sign. “Thank you RBG. Rest in peace. We’ll win this thing for you,” notes another.

The final sign of the exhibit reads “Not Done Yet” – a hopeful promise of the legacy of the Notorious RBG passing the torch to the next generation.

The New-York Historical Society is located on Central Park West between 76th and 77th Streets. Hours: Wednesday – Thursday: 11 am –5 pm; Friday: 11 am – 8 pm; Saturday – Sunday: 11 am – 5 pm. Call (212) 873-3400 for information about admission or click here.

ART, HISTORY, NEWS | 21 comments | permalink
    1. SadforUWS says:

      This obsession with Ginsburg is so tired.

      • HappyForUWS says:

        Yes spending your whole life fighting for equality for everyone IS exhausting, SadforUWS

    2. Gretchen says:

      RBG was sui generis and an icon. I am stoked and will definitely go to this exhibit. There’s always more to learn about the great RGB.

    3. Chuck d says:

      Her most important legacy is that she handed the court to Trump. She set us back 50 years. Great writer of minority opinions though. Those count, right?

      • ToChuck says:

        Nah. The people who did that are the people in your demographic group who were too weak to vote for a strong, intelligent woman.

        • marky says:

          The Midnight Defender of Truth!

        • chuck d says:

          I’d love to know how you know my demographic, or are you just blaming all men for Hillary’s disastrous run? Regardless, she messed up by not retiring because she (like you, apparently) was too focused on gender symbolism. That is her legacy.

    4. Jen says:

      Anyone notice how the ACLU has rewritten RBG quotes defending abortion by replacing “women” with “birthing people”? Look it up, folks.

      • Brandon says:

        Clearly you read, or should I say misread, the WSJ opinion pages.

        The ACLU did not use the term “birthing people” in an RBG quote. They swapped in “[person’s]” for “woman’s” and made similar gender-neutral substitutions elsewhere: https://twitter.com/ACLU/status/1439259891064004610?s=20

        “Birthing people” was used in a Biden administration budget document.

      • WarriorWoman says:

        Anyone notice how Terfs never know when to be silent? You know nothing of RBG if this is your comment, thing

    5. Sb says:

      She’s historic and formidable and yet this creepy worship of her seems odd—she also stayed in her official capacity too long—she was physically incapacitated quite a while before dying in office—I saw an appearance where she couldn’t lift her head up—even so—I admire her tenacity through many serious illnesses and as a woman of her era she was a trailblazer

    6. HappyForUWS says:

      Her inability to lift her head is physical, not mental. She actively and substantively participated in oral arguments until the very month before her death, often clearer and more lucid than her younger counterparts. I guess y’all missed her twice weekly workouts that most of us couldn’t do. The suggestion that she step down with a GOP controlled Congress … I guess everyone forgot about Merrick Garland. Where’s the call for 83 year old Breyer to step down immediately?

      Hero worship? No. Appreciation for a woman, as rare as that is, who fought her whole life for people like me. We should all be so lucky.

    7. Sb says:

      I’m betting the painkillers and cancer therapies made her less than lucid many times and she seemed MIA in the summer before her death and much work would have been taken up by clerks and staffers—I don’t blame her for age and illness—but when you are in that state it’s time to go—those famous workouts were years before—having this frail sick woman there for political reasons was hard to watch

      • HappyForUWS says:

        I agree with you that the politics was gross. But that’s on McConnell & Co. She tried to hang on but couldn’t. I can’t fault her for that. The workouts continued until COVID based on what her trainer said. Breyer should learn from all this & leave now.

    8. jennifer says:

      She didn’t do anyone any favors by not retiring when she should have, under Obama. Then he could have appointed somebody young who would be on the court a long time. She blew it. Not into worshipping RGB. I’m more of an Allen Ginsberg fan myself, lol.

      • HappyForUWS says:

        What difference would it have made aside form O’CONNELL refusing to hold hearings for 2 seats. She didn’t know she was going to die. If she lived 3 more months all of this nonsense blaming her instead of where it belongs wouldn’t even be an issue. Best get out your RETIRE NOW BREYER signs right?

        • Josh G. says:

          Ruth would be embarrassed with how far left the DNC has veered. That Democrats refuse to condemn racism and anti-semitism when it comes from their own side is shameful.

    9. David Kleinberg-Levin says:

      RBG absolutely should have resigned during Obama’s administration. I think she, and now Justice Breyer, became deluded in their late, unconsciously entangled in fantasies of immortal power.

    10. Gerry valentine says:

      Term limits needed for the judges.

      • chuck d says:

        Term limits for the SC would be a huge mistake. Those people need to be guaranteed to never go back into the private sector to ensure they aren’t corrupted. It’s bad enough they can get book deals and paid speaking fees. maybe earlier civilizations had it right when they created their ruling classes with religions.

    11. Sharon Baumgold says:

      Saw the exhibit in Los Angeles. It was amazing !