How Sandra Day O'Connor Broke The Glass Ceiling

Born into humble beginnings in 1930 in Texas, and raised near Duncan, Arizona, where the family didn't have electricity or running water until she was 7 years old, Sandra Day O'Connor went on to become one of the most important female figures of the 20th century.

She toted around a gun as a young girl and told Vanity Fair, "Whenever we saw a jackrabbit or a coyote we'd shoot them, because four jackrabbits ate as much as one cow." She went to private school and eventually enrolled at Stanford University in 1946. At the time, less than 4% of women had a college degree, per Statista. She stayed at Stanford to complete her law degree and worked for free at her first job because no one would pay her. 

"I called at least 40 of those firms asking for an interview, and not one of them would give me an interview ... they said, 'We don't hire women,' and that was a shock to me," Day O'Connor said in a 2013 interview with Fresh Air (via NPR).

When her husband John Jay O'Connor III was drafted to Germany, Day O'Connor followed and worked as a civil attorney for the Army (via Britannica). After returning from abroad, she was appointed to fill a vacancy in the Arizona Senate in 1969 by the governor,  per the Washington Post.

But while these were major strides for a woman at the time, these were just baby steps to what Day O'Connor would accomplish.

She was the first female justice on the US Supreme Court

In 1981, having promised to put a woman on the Supreme Court, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor.

"I was working in my office on the Arizona Court of Appeals," Day O'Connor told Fresh Air (via NPR). "I was at the court in my chambers when the telephone rang. And it was the White House calling for me, and I was told that the president was waiting to speak to me. That was quite a shock, but I accepted the phone call, and it was President Reagan, and he said, 'Sandra?' 'Yes, Mr. President?' 'Sandra, I'd like to announce your nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court tomorrow. Is that all right with you?' Well, now, that's kind of a shock, wouldn't you say?"

Day O'Connor's nomination was confirmed by the Senate 99 to zero, making her one of only five justices to be unanimously confirmed in the 20th century, per Senate.gov. She served from 1981 to 2006. In 1993, she was joined by the second female justice to be confirmed to the US Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Upon RBG's confirmation, O'Connor remarked that she was relieved to no longer be the only woman on the bench, per C-SPAN.

She proved to be unlike her fellow Republicans

Contrary to being a GOP member, Day O'Connor proved time and again that her allegiance was to the Constitution rather than her party. Per the National Women's History Museum, she became known for her swing votes. She voted with Democrats on abortion rights and to uphold Roe V. Wade — affirmative action, and other social topics, per ABC News. However, she still remained fiscally conservative and always voted in favor of protecting the 2nd amendment.

During her SCOTUS tenure and afterward, Day O'Connor received dozens of awards and honors — from being awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, to having September 25 named after her by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey.

When Day O'Connor retired from SCOTUS in 2006, citing her husband's battle with Alzheimer's, she'd broken countless glass ceilings. In 2018, when she announced her own Alzheimer's, Chief Justice Roberts called her a "role model not only for girls and women, but for all those committed to equal justice under law" and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said of Day O'Connor, "She strived mightily to make what was momentous for women in 1981 ... no longer extraordinary, but entirely expectable. I am among legions of women endeavoring to follow her lead," (via The New York Times).

At 92, Day O'Connor is alive and well, despite her Alzheimer's. She remains, and will forever be an inspiration, and the true embodiment of what women can achieve in a male-dominated world.