Joan Ruth Bader was born in 1933 in Brooklyn. She became known by her middle name because there were too many "Joans" in her elementary school.
Ruth's father, who was born in Russia and never attended high school, worked in fur. Her mother, Celia, was highly intellectual but wasn't able to attend college or pursue her own career.
Celia took Ruth to the library every week and encouraged a love of education in her daughter. But, after struggling with cancer for years, Celia died before Ruth graduated from high school.
She attended Cornell University and graduated in 1954 at the top of her class.
A month later, she married her classmate Martin Ginsburg, who she had met on a blind date her freshman year. She put her career on hold for several years as she gave birth to her first child, Jane.
In 1956, two years after graduating college, Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School, where Martin was also a student. She was one of just nine women in the class of more than 500.
The law dean reportedly invited the nine female students in the class to dinner and asked, "How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?" Ginsburg said she gave "the answer he expected": "My husband is a second-year law student, and it's important for a woman to understand her husband's work."
Meanwhile, Ginsburg had won a seat on the Harvard Law Review. She was also caring for her young baby and for Martin as he was suffering from testicular cancer — even attending his classes and writing his papers.
Martin eventually recovered and joined a law firm in New York City. Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School, earning a seat on their law review and graduating tied for first in the class in 1959.
Despite that stellar academic record, Ginsburg had issues finding a job. Many law firms had signs for applicants that read, "Men Only." Her Jewish background also didn't help.
So, Ginsburg didn't go through law firms. She accepted a courtship with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and, after two years, began working at Columbia Law's Project on International Procedure.
Ginsburg quickly became an associate director of the Project on International Procedure. One of her early projects was studying the Swedish legal system; she also taught herself Swedish.
Ginsburg later said the private sector's rejection was ultimately beneficial. Otherwise, she wouldn't have gotten this unique opportunities in academia and the government.
She became a law professor at Rutgers University in 1963, where she continued to study Swedish law. Through her studies of Sweden, she became more interested in gender equality issues.
Ginsburg founded The Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first American law journal on gender equality issues, in 1970. She then wrote the first textbook on sex discrimination law in 1974.
At that time, gender issues were seen as unimportant, and studying them could hamper a woman's career. "The concern was that if a woman was doing gender equality, her chances of making it to tenure in the law school were diminished," Ginsburg told The New York Times in 2015. "It was considered frivolous."
But the focus certainly didn't hamper her career. Ginsburg joined the faculty at Columbia University Law School in 1972.
And, through her know-how in gender equality law, she founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project and began arguing cases on discrimination before the US Supreme Court.
One landmark case Ginsburg argued before the Supreme Court involved a county in Missouri that allowed women to opt out of jury duty on request. That meant women comprised less than 15% of jurors in that county. Ginsburg argued that this violated the Sixth Amendment, and also implied that this meant that women jurors were less valuable than male opinions. Her arguments led a vote in her favor by 8-1.
In 1980, Ginsburg was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where she served for 13 years. Her husband Martin followed her to DC, becoming a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court. She was the second woman to serve and the first Jewish woman.
Ginsburg was originally selected for being a moderate and a consensus builder, but she's now one of most left-leaning justices on the Court.
Some of Ginsburg's landmark opinions as a justice included her opinion written on the insider trading case of United States v. O'Hagan and male-only admissions at the Virginia Military Institute.
As an Associate Justice, Ginsburg's two children grew and found their own paths in adulthood. Her older child, Jane, is a law professor at Columbia and her younger one, James, owns a record label in Chicago.
Her husband Marty, who Ginsburg called her "biggest booster" and "an extraordinary man," passed away in 2010.
By 2014, at which point she was in her early 80s, Ginsburg had become a pop culture icon — taking on the nickname Notorious R.B.G.
"(P)eople really find her politics powerful," said the creator of the Notorious RGB blog. "She's standing up to the conservative majority, who also happen to be men. She is an image of feminist rebellion, while still being a demure, quiet person in real life."
Ginsburg's policies aren't the only thing her devotees admire her for — they even try to follow her workouts, which are one-hour long and involve push-ups, planks, and squats.
Ginsburg beat colon cancer in 1999 and pancreatic cancer in 2009, barely missing any days on the bench.
At 85, people are predicting when Ginsburg will retire. But she's indicated that they shouldn't wait around for her to leave any time soon: "As long as I can do the job full steam, I will be here."