The Center for Women’s History is thrilled to celebrate the exhibition Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now on view through January 23, 2022. The traveling exhibition—organized by the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles—takes an expansive and engaging look at the Justice’s life and work, highlighting her ceaseless efforts to protect civil rights and foster equal opportunity for all Americans. It features archival photographs and documents, historical artifacts, contemporary art, media stations, and gallery interactives spanning RBG’s varied roles as student, wife to Martin “Marty” Ginsburg, mother, lawyer, judge, women’s rights pioneer, and internet phenomenon. One of the ways that we adapted the narrative for the New-York Historical Society was to emphasize RBG’s connection to her hometown, because RBG wasn’t just a legal titan: She was also a New Yorker through and through.
Photography by Don Pollard.
Still from our RBG in NYC video installation
Our exhibition includes a video installation of a map exploring some of the various sites from Midwood, Brooklyn, to Morningside Heights that were central to RBG’s life in the city. Spanning over 100 years of family history, the map takes visitors from her father’s arrival on Ellis Island from Ukraine in 1911 to the permanent bronze statue erected in Brooklyn last spring, diving into the many spaces that shaped RBG as a child, adolescent, young professional, and parent along the way. We include her and her children’s schools, her places of employment, and also some of her favorite haunts, like the Metropolitan Opera where she frequently attended performances; the department store, Bergdorf Goodman, where she loved to shop and honed her unique fashion sense; and the home of her favorite sandwich, Russ & Daughters.
A new, life-size bronze statue depicting RBG was unveiled March, 2021 in City Point, Brooklyn.
We also include images from a 2018 naturalization ceremony held at the New-York Historical Society. RBG had approached New-York Historical about participating in the ceremony after learning of our Citizenship Project, which offers free classes for green-card holders preparing for the naturalization interview, and offered to preside over a ceremony. On the stage of our auditorium, she shared her own immigrant history with the attendees, telling them, “My father and grandparents reached as you do for the American dream. As testament to our nation’s promise, the daughter and granddaughter of these immigrants sits on the highest court in the land and will proudly administer the oath of citizenship to you.” The experience was as moving to the Justice as it was to the attendees: As she wrote in a letter following the ceremony, “Looking out at the 201 faces of the new citizens, I could hardly hold back the tears. The diversity represented among the new citizens, proudly pledging allegiance, is what the USA means to me.”
RBG memorial outside Columbia University, 2020. Courtesy of Cristian Petru Panaite.
We also wanted to highlight how viscerally the city felt the loss upon RBG’s death in September 2020. A final wall at the end of the gallery highlights the many and varied memorials which sprung up across the city in the months after her passing. Jewish communities mourn with the phrase, “may her memory be a blessing,” encouraging the bereaved to keep loved ones alive through our actions. The memory of the justice’s life and work fueled activism during the ensuing presidential election season across the city and beyond. By featuring these spontaneous, grassroots vigils, as well as planned tributes like the above projection onto the New York State Civil Supreme Court building, we invite visitors to ask: How can you carry on RBG’s legacy to pursue justice and equal rights?
Fearless Girl with jabot, 2020. Jennifer M. Mason / Shutterstock.
Written by Anna Danziger Halperin, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Women’s History and Public History, Center for Women’s History
Top Image: RBG image projected onto New York State Civil Supreme Court building in Manhattan, September 19, 2020. Courtesy Reuters/Andrew Kelly/Alamy Photo.