Nowadays, #NotoriousRBG is a household name, but a few decades ago Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was used to being called “Justice O’Connor” by reporters, who knew there was a woman on the bench but couldn’t remember her name.

In the last year, Ginsburg has been the subject of both a documentary and feature film (RBG and On the Basis of Sex, respectively) depicting her rise from a Jewish girl lurking in Brooklyn’s public libraries to a woman’s rights icon and legal legend known for scathing dissents. 

Despite a recent bout of cancer, Ginsburg spoke in Raleigh Monday as part of Meredith College’s Lillian Parker Williams Lecture series. Lines swirled out the door for the event, with about sixteen hundred students from the women’s-only undergraduate program, faculty, and community members cramming into Meymandi Concert Hall at the Duke Energy Performing Arts Center to behold the judicial giant, who garnered outsize applause from the second all five-feet-one of her stepped on stage. 

In an hour-long Q&A, Wake Forest law professor Suzanne Reynolds probed Ginsburg on everything from her relationship with her mother to what her deceased husband would have thought of the sex scene in On the Basis of Sex (“Marty would have loved it,” she said, commanding huge laughs). 

Ginsburg’s education was nurtured at an early age by her mother, who’d cradle a young Ruth in her lap and read to her. She pushed Ruth to pursue law school when only a handful of seats were held for women, some just looking to find a husband. 

“What is the difference between a bookkeeper in New York’s garment district and a supreme court justice?” Ginsburg said. “My answer is one generation.”

She paused, absorbing the crowd’s applause. Then she continued in her calm, hoarse voice. 

“That’s why I am such an optimist because as bleak as things may seem, I have seen so many changes in my lifetime, opportunities open for people of whatever race, religion, and gender,” Ginsburg said.

Watch the entire lecture here:

YouTube video

Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss at

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