Early life and education
Joan Ruth Bader was born on March 15, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, the second daughter of Celia (née Amster) and Nathan Bader, who lived in the Flatbush neighborhood. Her father was a Jewish emigrant from Odessa (Ukraine), then in the Russian Empire, and her mother was born in New York, to Austrian Jewish parents. The Baders' older daughter Marylin died of meningitis at age six, when Ruth was fourteen months old.:3 The family called Joan Ruth "Kiki", a nickname Marylin had given her for being "a kicky baby".:3 When "Kiki" started school, Celia discovered that her daughter's class had several other girls named Joan, so Celia suggested that the teacher call her daughter "Ruth" to avoid confusion.:3 Although not devout, the Bader family belonged to East Midwood Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue, where Ruth learned tenets of the Jewish faith and gained familiarity with the Hebrew language.:14–15 At age thirteen, Ruth acted as the "camp rabbi" at a Jewish summer program at Camp Che-Na-Wah in Minerva, New York.
Celia took an active role in her daughter's education, often taking her to the library. Celia had been a good student in her youth, graduating from high school at age fifteen, yet she could not further her own education because her family instead chose to send her brother to college. Celia wanted her daughter to get more education, which she thought would allow Ruth to become a high school history teacher. Ruth attended James Madison High School, whose law program later dedicated a courtroom in her honor. Celia struggled with cancer throughout Ruth's high school years and died the day before Ruth's high school graduation.
Bader attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she was a member of Alpha Epsilon Phi. While at Cornell, she met Martin D. Ginsburg at age seventeen. She graduated from Cornell with a Bachelor of Arts degree in government on June 23, 1954. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the highest-ranking female student in her graduating class. Bader married Ginsburg a month after her graduation from Cornell. She followed her new husband to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he was stationed as a Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) officer in the Army Reserve after his call-up to active duty. At age twenty-one, she worked for the Social Security Administration office in Oklahoma, where she was demoted after becoming pregnant with her first child. She gave birth to a daughter in 1955.
In the fall of 1956, Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School, where she was one of only nine women in a class of about five hundred men. The Dean of Harvard Law reportedly asked the female law students, including Ginsburg, "How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?" When her husband took a job in New York City, Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School and became the first woman to be on two major law reviews: the Harvard Law Review and Columbia Law Review. In 1959, she earned her Juris Doctor at Columbia and tied for first in her class.