Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 1933-2020

We had just finished our first dinner together as a family since before the pandemic—both of my daughters, my son-in-law, and my grandsons. It was a wonderful meal—lots of laughter and food and candles and blessings. Apples and honey and challah and wine. We were cleaning up in the kitchen, the kids were playing, and suddenly I heard my son-in-law gasp. He stood up, ashen, and whispered, “Ginsburg died.”

All I could say was, “Oh, no.” Then two seconds later. “Oh, no.” It felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. It felt like a personal loss, the death of someone I knew and loved, not the death of someone famous I’d never actually met. We were all stunned. Even my grandsons, ages six and ten, knew who Ruth Bader Ginsburg was and knew how important she was.

We talked about her and her life, and then the next night we all watched “On the Basis of Sex,” a dramatized version of her early career and one of the first legal cases that established that treating men and women differently solely on the basis of gender was unconstitutional. When the movie ended with the shot of the real RBG standing on the steps of the Supreme Court, I cried. She was a hero, a role model, someone who changed the world I lived in and thus changed the course of my life.

She was born in Brooklyn, where my mother was born and raised and where my grandsons now live. Like my mother, she was Jewish and the daughter of an immigrant father and a mother who was first-generation American-born. She went to Cornell University and then was one of only nine women in her class at Harvard Law School in the 1950s. Despite the discrimination she faced there and the skepticism many had about women becoming lawyers, she rose to the top of her class.

Without Ruth Bader Ginsburg and others like her, I never would have dreamed of becoming a lawyer. When I was in high school and the women’s movement was just brewing, I thought girls could only grow up to be three things—a mommy, a nurse, or a teacher. I recall a heated debate with a classmate who was already more awake to the need for change than I where I took the position that a woman had to choose between a career or a family. She couldn’t have both.

All that changed in the four years I was in college, the years that RBG began litigating cases against sex discrimination. By my senior year I’d decided I wanted to go to law school. I wanted to have it all—a family and a career. When I arrived at Harvard Law School in 1975, there were more than ten times the number of women in my entering class than had been there when Ginsburg enrolled. We were still only 20% of the class, but at least there were more of us—thanks to the work of Ginsburg and others. Professors could no longer outwardly treat us as lesser beings than our male classmates, although some may have still thought that way. Without RBG and others, that never would have happened.

When RBG graduated from law school in the late 1950s, she could not get a law firm to hire her despite being on law review and at the top of her class. Twenty years later when I graduated from law school, there were still few women partners in law firms (and none at the firm where I was hired), but firms were hiring women.  Four years later, my firm had two women who were partners (out of over forty partners overall), and almost half of new hires were women.

When I left practice in 1982 to become a law professor, there were only two other women on the faculty of twenty-five; there were many students who expected their professors to be men, preferably older white men in suits, not a young woman with a young child and another on the way. But things changed over the years. More and more women were becoming lawyers, and more were becoming law professors. One of those law professors was Jane Ginsburg, Ruth’s daughter, and I first felt a real personal connection to RBG when I adopted two of her daughter Jane’s casebooks—one on copyright law, one on trademark law—to teach my courses in those subjects. When I retired from law teaching in 2014, women made up a majority of those on the faculty at my school. We had seen a momentous shift in thirty-two years.

So much changed from the time I was in high school and could only dream of becoming either a mother or a nurse or a teacher. So much changed from the day I entered law school until the day I retired almost forty years later. Women went from being outsiders in the legal profession to being a majority of those enrolled in law school and prominent in the profession, though even today there are still too few women partners in big law firms and too much discrimination generally against women in society.

I feel so deeply grateful to Ruth Bader Ginsburg for all these changes. When she was named by Bill Clinton to the US Supreme Court in 1993, I felt as if someone I knew had made it to the highest court in the land. A Jewish woman was on the Supreme Court. Someone who grew up in the time and place in which my mother had grown up. Someone who had had both children and a career. Someone who shared my background and my values. She was only the second woman to be named to the court. She changed it forever. She changed me and my life and my world even before I knew her name.

I am forever indebted to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. No wonder I feel her loss so personally. She was a blessing to every little girl growing up today, to every woman searching for a meaningful life, and to every woman of my generation who benefited from everything she did. She was a blessing to all people whose rights have been denied, who have faced discrimination, or who simply want to see justice and fairness in our society.

May her memory be a blessing forever. May we carry on her legacy.


Two other bloggers wrote posts about Ginsburg that touched me. I recommend them both. You can find them here (“The Heavens Opened for RBG” at Zicharanot), discussing another personal reaction to her death, and here (“Ruth Bader Ginburg, Rest in Power” at wmtc), discussing her opinions on the Supreme Court and their significance. There have been, of course, many other tributes and obituaries published that describe her life and her career and her impact on the law and on society.

 

 

Henry Goldsmith’s Grandsons: College Men

Before I left for England, I had been writing about Henry Goldsmith, my double cousin, related to me both as a Goldsmith and as a Schoenthal. Henry and his wife Sarah Jaffa had ten children, eight of whom were still living in 1920, all in western Pennsylvania. Sarah died in 1907, and Henry died in 1923. By then, six of their eight surviving children were married, and there were numerous grandchildren.

Two of their sons (JW and Benjamin) were in business together as merchants, one (Milton) was a doctor, one (Walter) a dentist, and two (SR and Oliver) were lawyers. Their two daughters also were quite accomplished, one (Florence) as a musician, the other (Helen) a teacher until she married and had a family. But we saw that after Henry’s death, there’d been some changes in the sons’ careers and that Oliver had moved away and married in Florida.

In the 1920s, not only were Henry Goldsmith’s sons making changes, his grandsons were as well. Three of his grandsons went away to college in the 1920s.

Norman, Milton and Luba Goldsmith’s older son, graduated from Cornell University in 1927.  Here is his photograph (left) from the 1927 Cornell yearbook:

“U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012”; Yearbook Title: Cornellian; Year: 1927
Ancestry.com. U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1990

During the summer after his graduation from Cornell, Norman took a writing course with his mother Luba at the University of Pittsburgh, as reported in detail in the July 28, 1927 Pittsburgh Press..  Here is just a short excerpt from the article, which mostly focuses on Luba’s writing interests and background:

“Pitt’s First Co-Ed and Son Studying in Same Class,” The Pittsburgh Press, July 28, 1927, p. 4

Again the doctor looks at literature. Dr. Luba Robin Goldsmith, practicing physician for 21 years, is a student of composition in the University of Pittsburgh summer school. Attending some of her classes is her son, Norman R. Goldsmith, aged 20, a graduate of the 1927 class of Cornell university, who will enter the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. ….

Beside her in Prof. Maulsby’s class in journalism each morning is her son, Norman R. Goldsmith, who, like his two parents will be a medical doctor. He is tall, attractive with his mother’s blue eyes and open countenance.  When questioned as to his correlation of medicine and writing, he said:

“Medicine I want to make my vocation; literature my avocation, if possible. I like to write. I think that’s about all.” He wants to write fiction, chiefly short stories.  He has already written a book, “Liebestraum,” printed privately in a small edition. In the Goldsmith home in Squirrel Hill is Albert, aged 12, whose career has not yet been determined. He is sturdy and athletic, likes music and writes a little.

Norman then began his medical education at the University of Pennsylvania, following in the footsteps of his mother and father, who were both doctors.1

Norman’s cousin, J. Edison, who was one year younger than Norman and the son of JW and Jennie Goldsmith, followed his cousin to Cornell, but completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He then went to the Hahnemann Medical School in Philadelphia.2

Finally, the third cousin, Jack Goldsmith, son of SR and Rae Goldsmith, was a year younger than J.Edison. Like his father, Jack went to the University of Michigan, from which he graduated in 1931. He chose law as his profession, following in his father’s footsteps; he attended Harvard Law School for a year and then transferred to the law school at the University of Southern California.3

And then tragedy struck. Jack Tumpson Goldsmith, the only son of SR Goldsmith and his wife Rae, died on March 21, 1933 at the age of 24. Excerpts from the full obituary are transcribed below:

“Funeral Service for Jack Goldsmith Thursday Afternoon,” The Connellsville Daily Courier, March 22, 1933, p. 5.

The funeral service for Jack Tumpson Goldsmith, whose death occurred yesterday morning in New York, will be held at 2:30 o’clock Thursday afternoon at the residence in Wills road. ….

A heart condition, which followed a severe attack of arthritis in December, caused death at 9:50 o’clock Tuesday morning at the apartment of Jack’s aunts, Misses Anne and Martha Tumpson. He was 24 years old.

The young man, a son of Attorney Samuel R. and Rae Tumpson Goldsmith of this city, was completing a law course at the University of Southern California when his illness began. In recent weeks his health failed rapidly, but many friends were unaware of the seriousness of his condition and his death created a profound shock.

Jack Goldsmith was widely known in Connellsville and other places. He made friends readily and was rather widely traveled. He was a brilliant student and made scholastic records at the institutions which he attended. Although equipping himself for the practice of law he was keenly interested in journalism and writing of short stories and poems. He frequently submitted articles to publishers, some of them being accepted.  During a summer vacation, he was employed on the reportorial staff of The Courier.  It being his desire to further acquaint himself with journalistic work through actual experience.

Born on January 28, 1909, in Connellsville, Jack attended the public schools here.  After two years in the Connellsvillle High School he entered Staunton Military Academy, where he was graduated with honors. While there he was a member of the school band and very active in student affairs. He next entered the University of Michigan, where he received his bachelor of arts degree in 1931.

At Michigan he was a member of the editorial staff of the school paper and was able to give wide scope to his desire for journalistic effort. He also became a member of the college gymnasium team, the first ever to represent the university in intercollegiate competition. He was awarded a letter for his success in that department. He was also a member of the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity.

Upon completion of his course there he entered Harvard Law School, spending one year at that place. Then he felt he might like to locate, upon graduation, in California, and in order to better reach a decision he transferred his study of law to the University of Southern California last year.

It was while his parents were on a visit with him during the Christmas holiday that he suffered an acute attack of arthritis.  It was quite severe on December 27. He was taken to the Cedar of Lebanon Hospital at Los Angeles, where he spent three weeks. The illness left him with a heart condition.

On February 22 he journed across the continent by train, going to the apartment of his aunts in New York. There he was confined to his bed for three weeks. His mother was constantly with him and his father spent the major portion of the past three weeks in New York also. Both were at his bedside when death occurred.

One of the best friends Jack Goldsmith had made in Connellsville was Rev. E. H. Stevens, pastor of the First Baptist Church. Despite the great difference in their ages, they would often spend hours together in the discussion of philosophy. With much in common, especially the ideas the younger generation are now confronting, they became very close to one another. Rev. Stevens has been invited by the family to take part in the funeral service.

What a terrible loss to the family and to the community. I was puzzled by the connection between arthritis and a heart condition, but after a little research, I believe that Jack suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, not the arthritis most of us association with joint pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is associated with damage to the heart.

I also was puzzled by the reference to the “college gymnasium team,” but found references to this terminology in some older sources referring to some kind of athletic team, though I am not sure exactly which sport. It might be gymnastics.

Jack Goldsmith is buried in Glendale, California. As we will see in the next post, among his other legacies, Jack may have inspired many in his extended family to leave Pennsylvania for the California dream.

 

 

 


  1. “Get Penn Degrees,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 18, 1931, p. 6. 
  2. The Connellsville Daily Courier, April 2, 1927, p. 6; The Connellsville Daily Courier, December 22, 1928, p. 6; The Connellsville Daily Courier, June 13, 1965, p. 2. 
  3. “Funeral Service for Jack Goldsmith Thursday Afternoon,” The Connellsville Daily Courier, March 22, 1933, p. 5.