Ginsburg was born Joan Ruth Bader on March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York. She attended Cornell University after graduating from high school. There, she began dating Martin Ginsburg, who would become her husband. Martin enrolled at Harvard Law School upon his graduation while Ruth completed her senior year at Cornell. Halfway through the year, Martin received his draft notice. After Martin's discharge from the Army two years later, the couple returned to Harvard, where Ruth Ginsburg also enrolled in law school. She transferred from Harvard to Columbia Law School to continue her study. She made law review, becoming the first woman to achieve the honored position at two major schools. After a year at Columbia, Ginsburg graduated at the top of her class.
Ginsburg worked for a few years as a research associate at Columbia Law School before joining the faculty at Rutgers University Law School in 1963. While at Rutgers, she battled for maternity leave rights for schoolteachers in New Jersey. She also began an active participation in the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1972, Ginsburg became the first woman hired with tenure at Columbia Law School. She also became the first director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project that same year.
After a brief stint as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California, Ginsburg President Jimmy Carter nominated Ginsburg to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit. She served as a federal appeals judge from 1981 until President Clinton nominated her to succeed retiring Justice Byron R. White. Clinton, impressed by Ginsburg's life story, praised her for her efforts in advancing women's rights.