1981 – The U.S. Senate confirmed Sandra Day O’Connor to be the first female justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.


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President Ronald Reagan nominates Sandra Day O’Connor, an Arizona court of appeals judge, to be the first woman Supreme Court justice in U.S. history. On September 21, the Senate unanimously approved her appointment to the nation’s highest court, and on September 25 she was sworn in by Chief Justice Warren Burger.

Sandra Day was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1930. She grew up on her family’s cattle ranch in southeastern Arizona and attended Stanford University, where she studied economics. A legal dispute over her family’s ranch stirred her interest in law, and in 1950 she enrolled in Stanford Law School. She took just two years to receive her law degree and was ranked near the top of her class. Upon graduation, she married John Jay O’Connor III, a classmate.

Because she was a woman, no law firm she applied to would hire her for a suitable position, so she turned to the public sector and found work as a deputy county attorney for San Mateo, California. In 1953, her husband was drafted into the U.S. Army as a judge, and the O’Connors lived for three years in West Germany, with Sandra working as a civilian lawyer for the army. In 1957, they returned to the United States and settled down in Phoenix, Arizona, where they had three children in the six years that followed. During this time, O’Connor started a private law firm with a partner and became involved in numerous volunteer activities.

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