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Echoes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on her old Cambridge street

Ruth Bader Ginsburg once lived in the same building that Jakob Sedig now lives in.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg once lived in the same building that Jakob Sedig now lives in.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

CAMBRIDGE — While Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lay in state in the nation’s capital, archivists traced her old address, where she juggled Harvard Law School, a newborn, and her husband battling cancer, opening a small window into her life there.

About a 20-minute walk from where a makeshift shrine to Ginsburg grew last weekend on the steps of Harvard Law School is the quiet residential street where she once lived.

There is no plaque, no marker indicating that Ginsburg lived at 12 Robinson St., a Harvard housing development on the site of a former botanical garden by the gates of what was once Radcliffe College. But Harvard Library archivists said according the “Directory of University Officers and Students” from 1956-1957 and 1957-1958, Ginsburg and her husband, Martin David Ginsburg, lived at the address.

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“I had no clue, but that’s just amazing to know,” Jakob Sedig, 36, a postdoctorate at Harvard who lives in one of the six apartments at the address said Saturday when he was told she had lived there.

Although her sojourn at Harvard has been much discussed following her Sept. 18 death, the place she lived during that period has been relatively unknown and was discovered by archivists Friday after a Globe request shortly after the justice’s death.

For some of the current inhabitants and neighbors of the complex, dubbed “Botanic Gardens,” the revelation has imbued the nondescript mid-century brick complex with a sense of history.

“It feels surreal a bit that someone that significant lived in a similar place," said Andrew Martinez, 27, who lives in the part of the complex that wraps around Linnean and Raymond streets.

“I’m sure she spent a ton of time here,” he said, looking around the grassy courtyard.

It seems unlikely that anyone on the street, mostly in units Harvard rents to graduate or post-doctorate students with families, was there during the 1950s.

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But one resident, who in the 1990s moved to a Bauhaus-style home across the street from where Ginsburg lived, was only a year younger than the late justice and remembered the intense prejudice of Harvard during that time.

“She must have been tough," said Virginia Mee Burns, 86, a retired geologist who sharply remembered a time when women were a rarity in graduate schools and academics.

Mee Burns recounted intense class-consciousness, the way academics dismissed women, the way people would scrutinize noses for a hint of Jewishness — all things Ginsburg must have faced as she went to Harvard Law School.

“You can’t imagine what she went through.”

Mee Burns said she considered herself lucky to have worked as a geologist when few other women did, even though her late husband, a former MIT professor, received most of the money and credit. A Bryn Mawr roommate she used to visit at Harvard in the mid-'50s was one of very few women pursuing a graduate degree in physics, but the pressure was too intense and she dropped out after her first year, Mee Burns said.

“I’m much more conservative” than Ginsburg, she said. But, “I don’t think anyone could not admire her.”

Harvard has changed greatly since the late justice was there, but despite renovations, the apartment complex where she lived is likely much the same.

The building is full of young families of graduate students and postdoctorates, often with a newborn in tow, according to residents. There is a child care center on the block and a playground nearby, and in normal times, children can be seen playing together in the shared courtyard, amid specimen trees held over from the garden.

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A mother who recently moved into the complex reacted with shock that Ginsburg had once raised her own newborn there. “No, that’s amazing,” she said, before being dragged away down the street by two young children.

Yoav Shimoni, 35, likely ended up at Ginsburg’s former address for some of the same reasons she did. He reached out to Harvard for housing and looked for somewhere where he could raise his son, who is now 2 years old.

Knowing the justice once lived there, he said “adds a special taste to where we’re living.”

Ariella Ruth Goldberg, 34, who lives upstairs from Shimoni, said she scoured her apartment for signs of the past after hearing Ginsburg might have lived there. “It’s so cool,” she said.

Like Ginsburg, she is a young Jewish mother balancing her life at Harvard with the demands of a newborn. Goldberg, who like Ginsburg goes by her middle name, Ruth, said she can perfectly picture Ginsburg there. After all, her walk to work must be nearly identical to Ginsburg’s because her job at the divinity school is near the law school.

The pandemic has only amplified the challenges she faces as working new mother, she said, but thinking of the late justice being in exactly the same place she is in is an inspiration.

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“It gives me hope of getting through this," she said.


Lucas Phillips can be reached at lucas.phillips@globe.com.