Sandra Day O’Connor, first female Supreme Court justice, dies at 93

Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to become a Supreme Court justice died on Friday, 1 December at 93 years old.

O’Connor, who announced in October 2018 she had been diagnosed with dementia, died of complications at her home in Phoenix, Arizona, the Supreme Court said in a statement.

Appointed to the Court in 1981 by former president Ronald Reagan, O’Connor had a tangible impact on the court, becoming a crucial moderate justice – gaining the reputation of the most powerful woman in America.

“A daughter of the American Southwest, Sandra Day O’Connor blazed a historic trail as our Nation’s first female Justice,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement.

“She met that challenge with undaunted determination, indisputable ability, and engaging candor. We at the Supreme Court mourn the loss of a beloved colleague, a fiercely independent defender of the rule of law, and an eloquent advocate for civics education,” he added.

O’Connor was the last living Justice to have served on the Burger Court prior to her death.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor poses with Chief Justice Warren Burger after her swearing in at the Supreme Court in Washington, Sept. 25, 1981.


Born on 26 March 1930 in El Paso, Texas to Harry and Ada Mae Day, O’Connor was by all accounts raised as a cowgirl.

Growing up on a cattle ranch that did not have running water until she was seven, learning to help maintain the ranch and participate in its culture were central parts of O’Connor’s childhood.

Riding horses, milking cows and shooting coyotes were part of her everyday life. She often reflected that working on the ranch contributed to her work ethic later on.

She once described how riding the cattle drives will a male-dominated team was her “first initiation into joining an all-men’s club” – something she would become closely acquainted with throughout her career.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor looks on during an installation ceremony for US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at the US Department of Justice 14 February 2005 in Washington, DC

(AFP via Getty Images)

In 1946, at just 16 years old, O’Connor enrolled at Standford University having graduated sixth in her class in high school.

In 1950, she graduated manga cum laude and continued her studies at Stanford Law School thanks to a program she was admitted to that allowed her to start law school in her senior year. She was only one of four women to do so.

O’Connor met her future husband, John Jay O’Connor III in her final year of law school. The two married in 1952, just six months after O’Connor graduated.

Despite her academic success, O’Connor had difficulties getting a job after graduating thanks to the blatant sexism of the male-dominated field.

O’Connor is survived by her three sons, Scott, Brian and Jay, as well as her six grandchildren.

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