Sandra Day O'Connor, associate justice of the United States Supreme Court and the first woman appointed to that high rank, was nominated by President Ronald Reagan in July, 1981, and took the oath of office in September.
Born in El Paso, Texas, and raised on a family ranch near Duncan, Arizona, she attended the Radford School for Girls; public school in Lordsburg, New Mexico; and Austin (Texas) High School, from which she graduated at age 16. At Stanford University, she received the bachelor's degree in economics magna cum laude in 1950. Upon earning the LL.B. degree two years later, she was ranked third in a 102-member law-school class headed by William H. Rehnquist, a Chief Justice of the United States. She earned membership in the prestigious Order of the Coif and on the editorial board of the Stanford Law Review, where she met John Jay O'Connor III.
She became a deputy county attorney in San Mateo County, California, then went on to work as a civilian attorney for Quartermaster Market Center in Frankfurt, Germany, through 1957. Her private practice brought her to Maryvale, Arizona, in 1958. While raising three sons, O'Connor was named to the Governor's Committee on Marriage and Family and became involved in Republican political activities.
In 1965, she became assistant attorney general in Arizona; she was appointed a state senator in 1969 and ran successfully for two more two-year terms. As a legislator, O'Connor championed causes where the rights of women were at stake. She worked for revision of Arizona statutes that discriminated against women by restricting their work hours, and she created legislation giving women equal responsibility in managing property jointly held with their spouses.
O'Connor favored the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and worked to make contraceptive information easier to obtain. Respected by state senate colleagues for her meticulous diligence, she was named majority leader in 1972, the first woman to hold the position.
Elected judge of Maricopa County Superior Court in 1974, O'Connor was not known for leniency but showed true concern for conditions at prison facilities where she sent convicted men and women. In 1979, Governor Bruce Babbitt appointed her to the Arizona Court of Appeals, where she served until 1981.
When he nominated her to the Supreme Court that year, President Reagan described O'Connor as " 'a person for all seasons,' possessing those unique qualities of temperament, fairness, intellectual capacity, and devotion to the public good that have characterized the 101 'brethren' who have preceded her."