FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Sept. 24, 2020) -- U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away at age 87 Sept. 18, and who will be interred Sept. 29, in Arlington National Cemetery alongside her husband of 56 years, Martin (Marty) Ginsburg, was revered throughout her career in American jurisprudence as a pioneer of gender equality.
Perhaps her unwavering, relentless passion and lifelong commitment to fighting for that and other equal rights stemmed from her observations and the way she had been treated while pregnant with her first child in Southwest Oklahoma.
Sandwiched in between her graduation from Cornell University in June 1954 with a bachelor’s degree in government and her (and Marty’s) acceptance into Harvard Law School in 1956, Ginsburg accompanied her husband to Fort Sill where he taught field artillery students for two years.
Archived in the Supreme Court of the United States collection is a small black and white photograph taken of the Ginsburgs, on Fort Sill in 1954.
According to a 1993 newspaper article in The Lawton Constitution, the couple resided on post in government quarters then located at 1504 McGlachlin.
At the time, their home was part of what is referred to today as the old Artillery Village, but neither the Ginsburgs’ home nor the old Artillery Village exist any longer, according to Fort Sill Public Affairs Officer Darrell Ames Jr.
In September 2018, the United States Military Academy’s third annual Zengerle Family Lecture Series in the Arts and Humanities hosted Justice Ginsburg’s first visit to the academy, where she spoke before the United States Corps of Cadets assembled in Eisenhower Hall.
An article published in the September 27, 2018 Pointer View detailed the justice’s 45-minute presentation and on-stage conversation with Brig. Gen. Cindy Jebb, the 14th dean of the academic board.
Justice Ginsburg addressed such topics as her involvement with the arts and humanities, her work on gender equality, and her perspective on dignified dissent.
During her remarks, Ginsburg, a New York native who was born in Brooklyn and grew up in that borough’s most diverse neighborhood (Flatbush, a vital melting pot of peoples, cultures, and architecture), elaborated on her initial impression of Southwest Oklahoma circa 1954.
“The schools on (Fort Sill) were integrated, but the schools in town were not,” Ginsburg said. “In fact, when we drove to Fort Sill, I saw a sign that I thought was ‘Jack White’s Cafe,’ but it was “Jack’s White Cafe.’
“That degree of separation I had not experienced before. Even lower in that community status were the Indians.”
Early in their two-year stay here, Ginsburg worked as a typist for the Godlove-Cummins law firm (today’s Godlove Mayhall Dzialo and Dutcher law firm), according to an article published in the September 22, 2020 edition of The Lawton Constitution.
In the article and according to Michael Mayhall, a senior partner at the firm, “It’s my understanding that Woolsey (Godlove, the founder of the original firm) said Justice Ginsburg was too talented to work as just a typist. Woolsey suggested she take the civil (service) exam, which she did, and then moved on to bigger and better things, obviously.”
Godlove had hired Ginsburg as a typist while her husband was stationed at Fort Sill, according to Mayhall.
Her civil service test scores qualified Ginsburg “to work as a claims adjuster for the Social Security Administration at Fort Sill,” she told the West Point cadets in 2018.
“I told the head of the office when I started that I was three months pregnant. He said, ‘Well, we can’t place you as a GS-5 because you won’t be able to go to Baltimore for training. So, we will list you as a GS-2 and you’ll do the work of a GS-5.’”
As Ginsburg experienced first hand, it was commonplace back then for schools and businesses to either offer menial positions to pregnant women, or to fire them on the spot. There were no equal-rights laws to protect women, so for the time being, Ginsburg had no choice but to remain silent and accept the status quo.
“It was also expected that when my child was born, I would leave,” Ginsburg said. “You can see why I am exhilarated by the change I have seen” in the 65 years since.
After leaving Fort Sill, both Ginsburgs would graduate law school - Marty from Harvard (magna cum laude) in 1958, and Ruth from Columbia (tied for first in her class) in 1959. She had transferred her last year from Harvard to Columbia Law School in New York City, to be closer to the NYC law firm that had hired her husband.
Ginsburg was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States by President Bill Clinton, and was sworn in on Aug. 10, 1993. She held that position on the Court and served for just over 27 years until her death.