Stone carving of Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the New York State Capitol.

Honoring Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

with a permanent portrait carving on the Great Western Staircase at the New York State Capitol
Honoring Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the New York State Capitol
Overview
A New Yorker Immortalized
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Justice Ginsburg in an official portrait, 2016.

Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. 
- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

 

New York State has added a permanent portrait carving of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Capitol’s Great Western Staircase. It’s the first new portrait added since the staircase’s completion in 1898. Justice Ginsburg, a Brooklyn native, is just the seventh woman depicted in the staircase gallery and the first person of Jewish descent. 

There were 77 – now 78 – different famous faces carved into the staircase, including the first 30 governors of New York State. The carvings also honor U.S. presidents, explorers, inventors, writers, soldiers, activists, and others who left their mark on our state, nation, and world.

 

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Directions
Where to View
Location

The new portrait carving is best viewed from the third floor of the Great Western Staircase while standing in front the Legislative Library on the Assembly side. 

By Foot

From the State Street Lobby follow the sign for the Great Western Staircase. Take your first right toward the staircase, opposite Dunkin. Continue up the staircase to the third floor. 

By Elevator

From the State Street Lobby, follow the sign for the Great Western Staircase to elevators 5 and 6. Exit the elevator on the third floor and take a right down the corridor. You will see the staircase on your right. 

Watch

Honoring Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the New York State Capitol

About
The Great Western Staircase

The Great Western Staircase, nicknamed the “Million Dollar Staircase,” is a monumental interior stair made of Corsehill sandstone from Scotland. Sculptors carved it in place over 14 years starting in 1884.

Criticism followed the staircase’s opening in 1898: Designers overlooked and omitted women of distinction, and not one was included in the dozens of carvings. As a result, the superintendent of public works directed carvers to add six women, all below the second floor.

The original six, soon to be joined by Justice Ginsburg, include:

  • Molly Pitcher, Revolutionary War soldier
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin
  • Susan B. Anthony, women’s suffrage leader
  • Clara Barton, Civil War nurse
  • Elmina P. Spencer, Civil War nurse
  • Frances E. Willard, temperance movement leader

The only modern carving on the staircase occurred in 2019 to correct a 100-year-old misspelling: Abolitionist Frederick Douglass was erroneously identified as “Fred. Douglas.”

The Sculpture Rehearsal
A Historic Addition
The carving under construction, 2023.
The carving under construction, 2023.

 

Justice Ginsburg’s carving was created by figurative sculptor Meredith Bergmann, who recently completed the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument in Manhattan’s Central Park. The artist hung the model in place for a “sculpture rehearsal” on the staircase in March 2023.

Bergmann hand-carved the final piece in the same Corsehill sandstone used for the original portraits. A team of skilled masons will remove a sandstone block from the stairs and insert Justice Ginsburg’s carving, securing it in place with steel dowels.

Following installation, the artist will add glasses to the carving, which will be cast in bronze and painted to match the stone. Bergmann will carve the inscription, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on site to complete the project.

Justice Ginsburg’s family approved a model of the proposed portrait. She is remembered as a courageous defender of equal rights and social justice.

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. 
- Governor Kathy Hochul

The Dress Rehearsal