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Ginsburg Family Donates Objects to National Museum of American History

March 31, 2022 by Dan McCue
Ginsburg Family Donates Objects to National Museum of American History
Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

WASHINGTON — Several objects related to the career of Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg were donated Wednesday to the National Museum of American History.

The donation by her children, Jane and James Ginsburg, was announced Wednesday night as the museum was honoring the late justice with its Great Americans Medal.

The recipient is selected by the museum’s leadership, and the medal honors “lifetime contributions embodying American ideas and ideals.”

The ceremony, the capstone to the museum’s observance of Women’s History Month, featured a biographical film narrated by Gloria Steinem, and testimonials from former President Jimmy Carter, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III, Barbara Streisand and Oprah Winfrey, among others.

The Ginsburgs also discussed the donation with the museum’s director, Anthea M. Hartig.

Ginsburg’s family invited Smithsonian curators to visit the justice’s chambers a few weeks after she died. Afterward, the curators made a list of the items they wanted to collect.

Among the items donated were the justice’s judicial robe from Maison Bosc, Paris; several distinctive collars, including the lace judicial collar that appears in a number of her official Supreme Court photographs and the “dissent” collar; legal briefs, her attaché case, and a copy of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 framed with a photograph of President Obama signing the legislation. 

Ginsburg’s dissent in the 2007 case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. directly called on Congress to act against pay discrimination.

A number of other items that are part of the donation are artwork and memorabilia capturing her status as a pop culture icon, including an “On the Basis of Sex” movie poster signed by the entire cast.

“This generous donation helps us tell more fully the complex history of the United States and Justice Ginsburg’s connections to pivotal moments in women’s history, especially the fight for gender equity,” Hartig said. 

“It is an honor to steward these objects and histories at the nation’s flagship museum, as they reinforce our belief in utilizing history to enhance civic health,” she said.

Supported by philanthropist and former Smithsonian Regent David M. Rubenstein, the ceremony also included the Ginsburg family discussing their mother’s proudest Supreme Court moments, her reaction to viral fame and the evolution and meaning behind the collars that adorned her judicial robe. 

Rubenstein drew upon his personal relationship with the justice to speak to how she exemplified the ideas and ideals of a great American and what audiences can learn from her story.

Ginsburg, who was appointed to the nation’s highest court by President Bill Clinton, served from 1993 until her death in 2020.

Previously, Carter appointed her as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Cornell University, attended Harvard Law School and received a law degree from Columbia Law School, tying for first place in her class, in which she was one of 12 women. Despite her academic achievements, she struggled to find a clerkship or a position at a firm because of her gender.

Plans have yet to be finalized in regard to a future exhibition of the Ginsburg artifacts. They will, however, be archived and made available online.

Reflecting on his mother’s notoriety late in life, James Ginsburg said his mother was at first surprised by it, and then, over time, came to enjoy and appreciate it for the opportunities it afforded her to speak with the public about issues she cared deeply about.

“She was looking to reach a different and, in some cases, a future audience,” he said. “The notoriety was a way to reach people beyond the court and legal circles, to reach a wider audience about what true equality means.”

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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