She’s an 86–year–old woman whose workout routine has become the subject of a bestselling book. She's been made into a bobblehead and a Halloween costume for young girls around the country. She is one of four women to ever sit on the Supreme Court, and, for many, her continued presence on the bench is of paramount importance. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a trailblazer for women’s rights and has become, in recent years, a pop culture icon.
Appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg was, at the time, the second female justice ever. Despite her age, her mental and physical health resembles that of someone years younger. In fact, she can probably do better push–ups than most of the people reading this article.
Notorious RBG, an exhibit dedicated to the life of the Supreme Court justice, opened at the National Museum of American Jewish History this month and will be there until January. The exhibit was organized by—and originally opened at—the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. After its stint in Philadelphia, it will continue to travel to museums across the country.
The exhibit takes attendees through the life of RBG, beginning with her early life in Brooklyn with her two Jewish parents—her father, an immigrant from Russia, and her mother, a second–generation Austrian–American. Josh Perelman, the NMJAH's Chief Curator & Director of Exhibitions and Interpretation, emphasized that it was Ginsburg’s familial values and strength of character that enabled her to accomplish such significant achievements throughout her life.
“I think [Ginsburg's story] demystifies in a way how someone becomes a Supreme Court justice,” Perelman said. “Becoming a Supreme Court justice does not require inherently that one comes from a background of privilege.”
The exhibit does an impressive job of simplifying some of RBG’s most influential court decisions so that her story can be accessible to audience members of all ages. Each poster throughout the exhibit explains the conflict at hand, Ginsburg’s approach in court, the case’s outcome, and widespread effects.
Although RBG sits on the highest court in the nation, the exhibit makes attendees feel as though they know her intimately by encapsulating Ginsburg’s most personal characteristics. “The thing that I learned the most in working on presenting the exhibition was about the Ruth Bader Ginsburg behind the RBG, and just how inspiring a figure she is,” Perelman said.
Ginsburg and her office played a significant role in reviewing all the artifacts displayed in the exhibit, and she also lent some of her personal belongings, such as photos and letters. RBG’s initial visit to the Los Angeles exhibit was canceled due to an unexpected cancer treatment. However, Perelman feels “quite optimistic” that she will come to see the exhibit here in Philadelphia.
The main theme of the exhibit is gender—more specifically, the discrimination Ginsburg faced in a field dominated by men, and the cases she fought that centered around gender. Perelman hopes that museum attendees feel inspired by Ginsburg who, despite the many barriers put up against her as a woman, was able to “have a tremendous impact on expanding the freedoms promised by our founding documents to more Americans throughout her career.”
Notorious RBG is an exhibit that focuses on the powers of love, perseverance, and morality at a time when Americans need these values more than ever.
“We’re thrilled that the exhibition opened to coincide with the beginning of this year’s Supreme Court term,” Perelman said. “Given what’s happening in our world and what’s happening in the Supreme Court today, I can’t imagine a more important and relevant time to be telling RBG’s story.”
On Dec. 2, The November Project will be hosting an RBG Workout exercise class at the museum. On Dec. 15, Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, authors of Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, will be at the exhibit for a conversation and book signing. Whether you attend one of these special events or visit the exhibit before it closes, the RBG experience promises to inspire and empower.