A growing collection of flowers, posters, hand-written notes and low-burning candles have accumulated on the steps of the Harvard Law School library, a makeshift memorial assembled by Harvard students and admirers of the late alumnus and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday at the age of 87.
Leaning in to read the notes, second-year Harvard Law student Jin Lee took stock of the vigil Sunday, after two days of reflecting on Ginsburg’s legacy.
“I'm just really grateful for what she has done for women in this country and for women at this school,” Lee said. “She has definitely influenced my decision to become a lawyer. She has shown me that as long as you keep pushing on the limits, they will expand. And that's what I hope to do.”
Ginsburg enrolled at the law school in 1956, entering into a class of 552 men and only eight other women. The dean at the time famously asked the nine women, at a dinner party, why they deserved to take a place at the university that could be taken by a man. A plaque in Harvard’s Austin Hall now commemorates another discrimination those women faced: the building contained the only women’s restroom on campus, which meant female students had to run across campus to do their business and run back to make it in time for class.
Ginsburg went on to become the first female member of the prestigious legal journal, the Harvard Law Review. But after transferring to Columbia in New York, she was denied a degree from Harvard, despite completing the majority of her education there.
Notes at the memorial nodded to Ginsburg’s trailblazing legacy and the difficulties she faced leading up to her appointment as the second woman on the bench of the nation’s highest court. “Thank you for inspiring generations of women,” one note reads, scrawled on a post-it. “Lawyers and all else. We lost a hero today.”
Cambridge resident and Democratic political consultant Heidi Mitchell passed by on her daily walk with her dog, Hank, stopping to read the notes and admire the memorial.
“Obviously, it's a pretty big blow to lose her on the court right now, and to lose her as an icon to so many people everywhere,” Mitchell said through her “VOTE” mask. “But it's also nice to just be able to show our appreciation for everything she stood for.”
Stephanie Perez, who stopped by the memorial with her parents, said she feels a responsibility to “make a great difference in the world” in the wake of Ginsburg’s passing.
“You feel the loss of her and the legacy that she left, and you wonder who else is going to be the next person that's going to do as much as she did for women in law,” Perez said. When asked if that person would be her, Perez’s parents nodded enthusiastically behind her. “I definitely feel a sense of duty to do something to make a difference,” Perez said. “In her name, but also, that’s why we're all here.”