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Sandra Day O’Connor: An Advocate for Gender Equality

Sandra Day O’Connor is the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States of America. Her career serves as testament to her ambition and capabilities as a highly intelligent and influential woman.

O’Connor attended Princeton University at 16 and completed her law degree from Stanford Law School in two years as opposed to the usual three years.

Due to well-known gender bias present in the legal field at the time she graduated, O’Connor struggled to find employment and took an unpaid job with a county attorney in San Mateo. However, she quickly showed tremendous ability and was hired as the county attorney General.

From then on she went from working as a civilian attorney for the Quartermaster Corps. in Frankfurt, Germany to a private practice in Arizona with another attorney.

Following a position with the Assistant Attorney General of Arizona, she was appointed to the Arizona State Senate. She was re-elected twice, even becoming the first female majority leader of any state senate. She left the Senate to pursue the seat in the Superior Court of Maricopa County and moved on the Court of Appeals four years later.

President Ronald Reagan nominated her for the Supreme Court two years after in 1981, making her the first woman to be nominated to the court. She was unanimously approved by the Senate.

During her time in the court, she drafted the majority opinion in Mississippi University for Women v Hogan, a case that involved alleged gender discrimination after a man sued for being denied admission to the traditionally all-female school. Mississippi University for Women was the first state-supported university in the United States, and Joe Hogan in 1979 was denied the opportunity to take courses for credit at the university because he was a male.

O’Connor’s opinion upheld the Court of Appeal’s ruling, which claimed that Mississippi failed to show how giving females a unique educational opportunity and not males was in the interest of all of its citizens.

O’Connor also served as the swing vote that reaffirmed Roe v Wade in the case Planned Parenthood v Casey. She continued to fight for gender equality in various cases and became known as an “unpredictable voter” because she could not be foreseen to vote any one way for any given case.

She retired in 2006 to care for her husband who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Since her retirement, she continues to advocate for the education of American youth and founded iCivics, a website that is dedicated to providing creative teaching tools on civic engagement.  

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