Susan Smith Blakely

How RBG Helped Lead the Way to Women’s Financial Independence

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is gone. Our mentor is missing. We all should be very sad. Our politics do not matter in this context. We all are women. We all should be grateful that this small and powerful woman walked amongst us.

I was in law school at Georgetown Law (then Georgetown University Law Center (GULC)) during the mid 1970’s when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was arguing cases on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union and setting the foundation for women’s rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

It is entirely possible that most law students in those days were not focused on what was going on at the ACLU or even at the Supreme Court, particularly as it related to women’s rights. Law students are very busy, and they were predominately male back then. But, something at Georgetown made it different, at least for me, and, in the 1978-79 school year, I was fortunate to take a seminar course titled “Women and the Law”, which focused on gender discrimination.

As I learned later, Professor Wendy Webster Williams at GULC and Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Rutgers Law School-Newark were teaching from the same playbook. Only a few law schools in the country offered this course content at the time, and I was lucky enough to be at one of them. What I learned in that seminar became the foundation for work I did early in my career as an advocate for women’s rights and, later, through founding the Best Friends at the Bar project.

The early work included an article I published in the Wisconsin Law Review addressing historic financial discrimination against women and passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 (ECOA) as the legislative remedy. I was delighted to discover years later that legal scholars make a direct link between the ECOA and the legal battles that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was winning at the Supreme Court in those days.

Young women today owe a great deal to passage of the ECOA. As a result of the legislation, women are able to qualify for credit cards, open bank accounts, obtain both personal and business loans, including student loans, car loans and home mortgages — all without the signature (and the permission) of a husband. The legislation also liberated women who had been widowed or were divorced, who, until that time, could not utilize credit ratings from former marriages to achieve financial independence.

We thank you, RBG, for being there for us.

For more of my thoughts on RBG, please read my article published in the ABA Journal last week. I hope you enjoy it.

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