Sandra Day O’Connor, 1930

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Woman Category: Activism & Feminism, Law, and Politics & LeadersWoman Tags: Justice, Lawyer, and Senator

  • HerStory

    Lawyer, Politician, and the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.

    Born in El Paso, Texas and spent most of her childhood in her family’s ranch in Arizona. The schooling options in the area were limited, so she moved to live with her grandparents, where she studied at Radford School for Girls. O’Connor finished high school two years early, and at sixteen, she was admitted to Stanford University and earned her BA in Economics. By the age of 22, she already earned her law degree from Stanford University.
    Though she had impeccable qualifications, O’Connor had a hard time finding a job as an attorney due to bias and discrimination against women in the legal field. She turned down a paying job offer as a secretary and worked for free for the county attorney of San Mateo County, California. When she was only 24 years old, O’Connor moved to Frankfurt, Germany, to work as a civilian attorney for the US Army Quartermaster Corps for three years.
    When she returned to the USA, she opened her own law firm. At 35, she began working as the Assistant Attorney General of Arizona, and four years later she was appointed to the Arizona State Senate as a Republican to fill a vacated seat. After one year in this position, she was elected to the State Senate for a full term.
    O’Connor was reelected twice and served as the first female majority leader of any state senate. At the age 45, she was elected as a Superior Court justice in Maricopa County and afterward, was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals in Phoenix.
    At the age of 51, O’Connor was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan, becoming the first female justice to serve on the United States Supreme Court. As a Supreme Court justice, she emphasized the significance of equal-protection, promoted women’s interests, amended inequalities against women, and was a swing vote in cases regarding abortions and harassment against women. After 25 years of serving as a supreme justice, O’Connor retired to care for her husband, but she remained active both in court and in advocating for civic education for the youth.

    “As a citizen, you need to know how to be a part of it, how to express yourself – and not just by voting”

    “As a citizen, you need to know how to be a part of it, how to express yourself – and not just by voting”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She got married to John Jay O’Connor shortly after graduating Stanford. He was a year behind her in school. They have 3 children.
    • She finished third in her class at Stanford Law.
    • September 25th is “Sandra Day O’Connor Day”.
    • After retirement, she heard cases on a part-time basis and founded a website providing teaching tools for civic engagement.
    • She wrote several books, including a biography and a children’s book.
    • Since her service at the Supreme Court in 1981, only three more women have served there up until today.
  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * Books she wrote
    * Books about her


    * Presidential Medal of Freedom
    * Inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame
    * Elizabeth Blackwell Award

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Woman Tags: Justice, Lawyer, Senator

    Supreme Court Moments in History: Sandra Day O'Connor on Abortion

    From the NewsHour's video vault, watch Robert MacNeil's 1981 report on the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Sandra Day O'Connor.

  • Photo credit - Shutterstock.

  • Citations and Additional References:
    CNN website.
    OYEZ website.
    Wikipedia page.