Sandra Day O’Connor

Sandra Day O'Connor
In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court.

Sandra Day was born on March 26, 1930, in El Paso, Texas. As a young child, she lived on her family’s ranch in Arizona. She returned to El Paso when she was old enough to go to school. After she graduated from high school, she attended Stanford University in California. She earned a law degree in 1952, graduating third in her class. She married John Jay O’Connor III, who was her law school classmate.

O’Connor had done well in law school, but law firms would not hire her because she was a woman. She and her husband moved to Germany, where she was an attorney for the U.S. Army. A few years later, she returned to the United States and she and her husband settled in Arizona. She opened her own law firm since it was hard for women to get hired.

O’Connor also became active in politics. She was elected to the Arizona Senate in 1969 and became a leader in the Senate. She was elected to be a Superior Court Judge in 1974. She was later appointed to a higher court in Arizona.

In 1981, Justice Potter Stewart retired from the U.S. Supreme Court. President Ronald Reagan had promised to nominate a woman to the Supreme Court. He nominated O’Connor. The Senate approve the choice—every Senator voted “yes.” She was sworn in on September 25, 1981.

O’Connor retired from 2006 when she became ill. In 2009, President Barack Obama awarded her with the highest nonmilitary award in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

What Do You Think? What made O’Connor’s appointment to the Supreme Court special? Do you think there are more opportunities for women now than when she started her career? Why or why not?

Photo Credit: The U.S. National Archives