Justice’s Portrait is First to be Added to the Capitol’s Great Western Staircase Since Steps Were Completed in 1898
Governor Kathy Hochul, on Monday, August 21, officially unveiled a carving of Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and Brooklyn native Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the New York State Capitol’s Great Western Staircase.
"Throughout her career, Ruth Bader Ginsburg served as a driving force for women's rights and tirelessly fought against gender discrimination," Governor Hochul said. "As the first woman to be elected as Governor of New York State, I join the ranks of millions of women inspired by Justice Ginsburg's wisdom and courage. Her portrait's presence in the Capitol will stand as a lasting reminder of her extraordinary legacy and New York State's forefront position in the movements for women's suffrage and rights."
Artist Meredith Bergmann said, “I was honored to have been selected to sculpt the portrait of one of my heroes for this magnificent, idealistic staircase. Justice Ginsburg was a shining example of what a Supreme Court Justice could be, and now she can greet and inspire our lawmakers as they pass her on their way to work.”
Justice Ginsburg’s portrait is the first to be added to the Great Western Staircase since the completion of the steps in 1898 and only the seventh woman depicted in the staircase gallery. The second-floor location chosen for the carving places Justice Ginsburg in an area where only men were included before now.
The permanent sculpture of Justice Ginsburg is located directly above a carving of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first chief justice John Jay, making Ginsburg only the second Supreme Court justice whose portrait is carved on the Great Western Staircase. Justice Ginsburg’s likeness was created in the same style as the 19th-century portraits carved in the staircase’s Corsehill sandstone.
In November 2022, the Ginsburg family approved figurative sculptor Meredith Bergmann’s model of the proposed portrait carving. Bergmann is the female figurative artist who sculpted the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument in New York City’s Central Park, which features suffragists Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
The new portrait of Justice Ginsburg is best viewed from the third floor of the Great Western Staircase. Additional information and directions to the carving are available at the information desk in the Capitol’s State Street lobby and on the NYS Office of General Services website.
The Great Western Staircase
The Great Western Staircase at the New York State Capitol is a monumental interior stair constructed of elaborately carved Corsehill sandstone. The stair was carved between 1884 and 1898. The only modern carving that has occurred at the stair was to correct the misspelling of Frederick Douglass’ name in 2019. The staircase includes intricate carvings of flora, fauna, symbols, and the faces of named great Americans, including the first 30 governors of New York State, United States presidents, explorers, politicians, inventors, scientists, authors, soldiers, poets, activists, and abolitionists.
There are portraits of six other women carved on the Great Western Staircase, all below the second floor:
- Molly Pitcher, Revolutionary War soldier
- Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin
- Susan B. Anthony, suffragist leader
- Clara Barton, Civil War nurse
- Elmina P. Spencer, Civil War nurse
- Frances E. Willard, temperance crusader