Ruth Bader Ginsburg likeness to be carved into ‘Million Dollar Staircase’ at State Capitol

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Museum of the City of New York in 2019.
File Photo by Todd Maisel

The trailblazing late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will have her face carved into the “Million Dollar Staircase” at the State Capitol in Albany, the first addition to the collection of busts in 125 years.

Ginsburg, the Brooklyn native who used the legal system to challenge entrenched sex discrimination — before ascending to the nation’s highest court and ultimately becoming a meme and women’s rights icon — will be the seventh woman honored in such a way on the famous staircase, and the 78th person overall.

“When Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked when there would be enough women on the U.S. Supreme Court, she famously replied ‘When there are nine,'” Governor Kathy Hochul said in a statement. “By carving her portrait into the Capitol, we are both honoring Justice Ginsburg’s legacy as a trailblazer for justice and gender equality, and also celebrating New York’s history as the birthplace of the women’s rights movement.”

The portrait was carved by sculptor Meredith Bergmann, famous for various sculptures of women from American history, and the design was approved by Ginsburg’s two children, Jim and Jane. Ginsburg’s portrait will go directly above that of John Jay, a Founding Father who served as governor of New York and later the Supreme Court’s first Chief Justice.

My brother and I, and the entire Ginsburg family, are deeply moved that our mother’s home state of New York has honored her by placing her image in the magnificent Western Staircase,” Jim and Jane Ginsburg said in a statement. “It is particularly fitting that she will appear close to John Jay, her great predecessor on the US Supreme Court, whom she admired.”

The Million Dollar Staircase, formally known as the Great Western Staircase, was carved between 1884 and 1898 and frequently plays host to press conferences and rallies by legislators and advocates. The faces of New York’s first 30 governors are carved, as are other figures of American history like George Washington and Ben Franklin.

Six women’s faces were carved when state officials realized the severe gender imbalance on the monument, the New York Times reported. As such, the powers that be added at the time the busts of Revolutionary War soldier Molly Pitcher, suffragist Susan B. Anthony, author Harriet Beecher Stowe, Red Cross founder Clara Barton, Civil War nurse Elmina Spencer, and Temperance movement leader Frances Willard.

The only other time since 1898 that the staircase has been augmented was in 2019, to correct a century-old misspelling of Frederick Douglass’ name.

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