Sandra Day O’Connor, appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981, was the Supreme Court’s first woman justice. A native of Arizona, she graduated with honors from Stanford University’s law school, but was turned down by law firms because of her gender — a common practice in the 1950s.
In 1969, she was appointed to Arizona’s state Senate; she won re-election twice and became Senate Majority Leader in 1972. In 1975, she was elected to a state judgeship. When she joined the U.S. Supreme Court, she was the only sitting justice previously elected to office.
The pragmatic O’Connor was known as a consummate compromiser and became the “swing” vote in many 5–4 Supreme Court decisions. Her appointment represented an achievement for American women, which O’Connor was mindful of. “It makes a difference for women to see women in positions of authority in high office,” she once said. She retired from the Supreme Court on January 31, 2006.