Women's Rights Movement Archives - StoryCorps

“It’s Okay to Be a Hero”: Remembering Justice Ginsburg’s Words

Sharron Cohen had no idea that at the age of 25, she’d find herself at the center of a legal battle with the potential to change women’s rights forever. In the early 1970s, Sharron was a newlywed Air Force Lieutenant who was denied the same spousal benefits offered to her male colleagues. So with the help of a lawyer named Joe Levin, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, she sued the federal government for discrimination on the basis of sex.

Photo: A young Sharron Frontiero (now Cohen) dressed in Air Force uniform in 1972. Courtesy of Sharron Cohen.

That lawsuit eventually came to the attention of a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, and then onto the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court. Together, Levin and Ginsburg argued the case, which came to be known as Frontiero v. Richardson. It won in an 8-to-1 vote, and became one of the first successful sex discrimination cases in U.S. history. 

In December of 2020, Sharron came to StoryCorps in Massachusetts with her son Nathan to remember the late Justice Ginsburg.

Top Photo: (L) Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with former plaintiff Sharron Cohen, her husband David Cohen, and son (R) Nathan on the steps of the Supreme Court building in 1999. Courtesy of Sharron Cohen.
Bottom Photo: (L) Nathan Cohen and his mother Sharron on the day of his wedding in 2013. Courtesy of Sharron Cohen.

Originally aired December 18, 2020 on NPR’s Morning Edition.