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Ruth Bader-Ginsberg Sculpted Portrait: Historic Capitol's First Addition in 100 Years

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Governor Kathy Hochul unveils a portrait carving of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Great Western Staircase at the New York State Capitol in Albany.
Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Ruth Bader-Ginsberg Sculpted Portrait Is the First Addition to a Historic State Capitol Staircase in Over a Century

Earlier this month Gov. Kathy Hochul unveiled a bust of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, immortalized in stone on the New York State Capitol’s historic Great Western Staircase.

The stone carving of Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the first sculpted portrait to be added to the ornate four-story, red sandstone staircase, in 125 years.

With illumination from the skylights casting a pink glow on the intricate carvings of what’s also known as the Million Dollar Staircase, Hochul spoke on its steps during the unveiling ceremony.

“There were no women when the initial carvings were done,” Hochul said.

Carvings of six women were added when the Capitol was nearing completion in 1898. But Bader Ginsburg is the first woman to be enshrined in the upper-level section of the staircase galleries.

Hochul, who is New York’s first female governor, says Bader Ginsberg did not have an easy journey to the nation’s highest court. A Brooklyn native born to immigrant parents, Bader Ginsberg struggled to find employment after law schools. In 1960, she was turned down for a clerkship with the U.S. Supreme Court because of her gender.

Yet, the governor says, she persevered.

“By force of her intellect, and toughness, that we love, she achieved history,” Hochul said. “Not just to be the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States of America, but also the first Jewish woman on the Supreme Court.”

Hochul, who worked and raised children during her career as an attorney and local elected official, added that Bader-Ginsberg is also “a model for some of us who are raising kids while balancing careers.”

One of Bader Ginsberg’s two children, Jane Ginsberg, now a professor at Columbia Law School, was also there. Professor Ginsberg said her family is honored by the portrait. And she credited the sculptor, Meredith Bergmann -- known for her statue of suffragists Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in New York City’s Central Park -- for accurately capturing one of her mother’s key style elements.

“Including the resolution of technically challenging issues,” Ginsberg quipped. “Such as which style of eyeglasses and how to represent them.”

Bader Ginsberg is depicted with her trademark owl-like spectacles.

Bader Ginsberg joins numerous other famous Americans depicted on the staircase, including Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Likenesses of the first 30 New York governors are also carved into the sandstone, as well as numerous flora, fauna and other symbols.

Hochul says placing Bader Ginsberg’s portrait in a prominent position sends an important message.

“To have her in a place where women could walk down and pause for a moment. And children can see and ask the questions like, ‘Why is she there? Who is this woman who did something so extraordinary that her image is emblazoned on this sandstone here in our Capitol?” Hochul said.

The six other women who are portrayed are Revolutionary War soldier Molly Pitcher, abolitionist and author Harriet Beecher Stowe, Civil War nurses Clara Barton and Elmina Spencer, temperance crusader Frances Willard, and women’s suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony.

The state Capitol building is open to the public during normal business hours. Tours are offered at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.