When Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) was 13, her father helped her open a bank account. When her mother found out, she was astonished.

“She said, ‘You have your own bank account? I don’t have my own bank account,’” Gonzales recalled. “‘Since when can women have their own bank account?’ This was in 1984.”

There are many things that women take for granted today that they would not have been able to do mere decades ago, like controlling their own finances, Gonzales said. (Women were largely limited from obtaining their own credit cards before the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974.) Or in an earlier time, if Gonzales had gotten pregnant while serving on City Council, she might have been asked to resign, she said.

“‘A pregnant woman has no business on the council,’ they might have said to me, if it hadn’t been for the work of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and all the women that have come before me,” she said.

City Council voted unanimously at their online meeting Thursday to pass a resolution honoring the trailblazing legal legacy of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Sept. 18 at the age of 87 from complications of pancreatic cancer. After facing gender discrimination in job searches after graduating at the top of her law school class, Ginsburg dedicated her life to championing gender equality and women’s rights. She eventually became a law professor and served as a volunteer attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union before becoming an appellate judge and then the first Jewish woman and second woman appointed to the Supreme Court.

Each council member took some time Thursday to reflect on the women who shaped their lives, and the women on the virtual dais recognized the people who helped pave the path for the first female-majority City Council in San Antonio history.

Jean Shaw (left) and Jennifer Caffery of San Antonio raise their fists during a public memorial outside the Bexar County Courthouse in honor of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September. Credit: Stephanie Marquez for the San Antonio Report

Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6) voiced her appreciation for the women of her family, as well as the women who shared her professional path as a lawyer.

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or the Notorious R.B.G. as she was affectionately known, was a legal cultural and feminist icon,” she said. “She was a diminutive woman with an intellect and toughness that made her legendary. As a woman attorney, I owe R.B.G. a debt of gratitude for paving the way and inspiring me to lead with a respect for process and the rule of law but also with compassion.”

Though he acknowledged that he is seen as the lone conservative voice on the court, Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) also threw his support behind the resolution, citing Ginsburg’s close friendship and working relationship with Justice Antonin Scalia, her colleague on the Supreme Court who died in 2016. Though they were ideologically far apart, they respected each other, Perry said.

“They still got along well with each other and were able to conduct business, and I hope that we can continue to do that on this council,” he said.

Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), who in October requested the resolution honoring Ginsburg be considered, closed her comments with a quote from Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“She said, ‘Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an American hero,’” Viagran said. “‘She spent her life fighting for the equality of all people. And she was a pathbreaking champion of women’s rights. She served our courts and country with constant dedication, tirelessness, and passion for justice. She has left a legacy few would rival.’”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.