Commentary Search

Trailblazing Women in Government: Sandra Day O’Connor

By by Dieadra Marshall 2nd Medical Operations Squadron


Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. She was born in El Paso, Texas, March 26, 1930, but spent a large amount of her youth on her family’s ranch in Arizona.

Sandra Day O’Connor graduated from Stanford University in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in Economics. O’Connor continued her education at Stanford University law school, she graduated 3rd in her class in 1952. With very few opportunities for female lawyers during this time period Sandra Day O’Connor worked for the county attorney of California’s San Mateo region for free just to gain experience and to build her reputation. She quickly earned a notable reputation for being “firm, but just” which became her meal ticket to a paycheck and a position as the deputy county attorney.

For about four years Sandra Day O’Connor worked overseas as a civilian lawyer before returning to Arizona in 1958 to work in the public service area of law as the state’s assistant attorney general from 1965-69. In 1974, she ran for the position of judge in Maricopa County and won. She is a noted conservative Republican who remained very involved in politics outside the courtroom.

After only two years of service, then President Ronald Reagan nominated her for the associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Sandra Day O’Connor received undisputed approval from the U.S. Senate and broke down barriers when she was sworn in as the first female justice on the Supreme Court.

During her term with the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor faced some personal medical challenges. Sandra Day O’Connor was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988 and underwent a mastectomy, which did not interrupt her position with the Supreme Court. She married her husband, John Jay O’Connor, in 1952. The couple had three sons. She felt that with her husband's deteriorating health, he needed her more than anything else which led the respected jurist to step down from the bench and retire Jan. 31, 2006. John Jay O’Connor III, suffered from Alzheimer’s and died in 2009.

For 24 years, Sandra Day O'Connor was a pioneering force on the Supreme Court. She'll long be remembered for acting as a steady, guiding hand in the court's decisions during those years and for serving as a swing vote in important cases. Since retiring, O'Connor is still currently active on the lecture circuit, speaking to different groups around the country while continuing to weigh in on legal issues.

In 2006, Arizona State University named its law school after the distinguished justice and President Obama honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.