In 1959, fresh from Columbia Law School, future Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg couldn’t get hired by a law firm.
It wasn’t that she wasn’t qualified — she was Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But women weren’t welcome into the legal establishment. Before she attended Columbia, Ginsburg had attended Harvard, where the school’s dean reportedly asked her and the eight other female students, “How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?” She was also rejected from a Supreme Court clerkship because of her gender.
Those are just a few of the little-known details of Ginsburg’s life that “RBG” documentarians Betsy West and Julie Cohen shared with TheWrap Editor-in-Chief Sharon Waxman at the Sundance Film Festival. The film premiered at the festival Sunday night.
“She was at the top of her class when she graduated,” West said. “And she went out into the working world and could not get a job in a law firm because they said, openly, ‘Oh yeah, she seems really smart, but she’s a woman and we just don’t hire women. So that’s the kind of discrimination she faced and most women faced in that era. Cut to 10 years later, she was part of an ACLU group that started the Women’s Rights Project. And Ruth Bader Ginsburg had the rather radical idea that the U.S. Constitution should apply to everyone: Men and women.”
She argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, helping win fights that led to greater treatment for all. And she hasn’t stopped fighting. The filmmakers had incredible access to Ginsburg for their film, even during her “notorious” workouts, West said.
“She lifts weights, she pulls things, she throws a medicine ball,” said Cohen, listing just a few of 84-year-old Ginsburg’s physical feats.
Ginsburg herself spoke out at Sundance on Sunday, sharing a #MeToo story from her college days. She said a chemistry professor once tried to help her cheat on an exam.
“I knew exactly what he wanted in return,” she said, adding that she “went to his office and said, ‘How dare you? How dare you do this?’ And that was the end of that.”
Learn more about Ginsburg in the video above.