Run for Ruth (RBG) – my sort-of Big Sister

Fresh off a 3-month virtual run, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to participate in Run for Ruth-We Dissent challenge. Run for Ruth offered two options in distance and 20 options in a charity of choice.

Among the challenge choices were a 5K run/walk, an 87-mile run/walk and an 87-mile bike challenge. I chose the 87-mile run/walk.

My charity choice was Step Up, a program that has been around for about 20 years, supporting and mentoring girls in school in under-resourced communities.

So why do I think of RBG, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as my big sister? Let me take you in the wayback machine to a time and place where we women, now in our late 60’s and 70’s had fewer choices and more restrictions.

Thirteen years older than me (a perfect age gap for a big sister) and facing her own hurdles, after graduating from Cornell was offered a job as a typist. RBG was questioned by a law professor as to how she could justify taking the place a man in her class. After graduating, she was overlooked for several positions because law firms and judges just weren’t ready to hire a woman as an associate or for a clerkship.

Long before her appointment to the Supreme Court, big sister RBG helped establish and worked at a Women’s Rights Center where many gender discrimination cases were handled. 

Through the 1970’s she chipped away at discriminatory statutes, bit by bit, like a sculptor reshaping a block of stone. According to this article on history.com, she and colleagues took on more than 300 cases.

 My big sister RBG patiently worked those cases involving estates, government benefits, employment and numerous other areas of law, expanding not only opportunity but responsibility for women and in some cases brought about further benefits for men as well.

These cases moved through the courts between about 1971 and 1976. During that time, many of us (now in our late 60’s and early 70’s) graduated from high school or college, moved into the job market, married and started families. We were the women on the cusp of these changes, just realizing that the door that was closed yesterday – and did we even know there was a door? – thanks to RBG’S work, cracked open the next day or next year.

What kind of doors? Well, employment was a big one. In the mid-1960’s I was ready to move on from my summer job as a carhop. I recall looking for a job and finding employment positions in the newspaper want ads listed by ‘Help Wanted – Male” in one category and ‘Help Wanted – Female” in another. Yes, that really happened. If you were a woman and wanted to apply to be a teacher, nurse, secretary, typist, barmaid, or cleaning lady you were in luck. Don’t look for anything beyond those categories.

Moving on to the early 1970’s, I asked for consideration for a position historically held by men in a company I worked for. My manager in his humorous way told me I could have any position I wanted as soon as I owned 51% of the company. Yes, that really happened. Through the work of RBG and others, as discriminatory laws one by one began to fall, opportunities opened up for those of us then in our twenties and early thirties.

Thanks, big sister RBG for having the collective back of your little sisters coming behind you. Not that it has been smooth since legal changes in the 1970’s. There is no guarantee the pendulum won’t swing back. It’s our turn now to protect the gift you left us.

RBG, it was an honor to take to the road and run my 87 miles in your name. Then, it was only fitting, in appreciation of the benefits I and many other younger sisters received from your work, I passed it along through designating contributions to Step-Up.

Is there anyone out there near my age group (AG70-74) who had opportunities open as a result of the early work of RBG? Can you draw comparisons between and among the opportunities for you, your daughters and granddaughters? What do you recall from your earliest years as a teenager and young woman, dealing with finance and employment?

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