Related Topics:
Judicial System
Women's rights
Women in government
Work ethics
Grade Level: 4th/5th
Author: Blake Nichols

Table of Contents




Time Allotment

Resources Needed




On July 7, 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to be the first woman in history for the position of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. On September 22, 1981, Sandra Day O'Connor was officially confirmed to the Supreme Court with 91 votes of approval. She took the oath of office on September 26.

Sandra Day was born on March 26, 1930 in El Paso, Texas. Harry A. and Ada Mae Wilkey Day are her parents. Sandra grew up on her family's 155,000 acre Arizona ranch called the Lazy B. When Sandra was old enough to attend Elementary School, she was sent to live with her grandmother in El Paso. There Sandra received a better education than attending the small school close to her families ranch. Sandra graduated from Austin High School in Texas at the age of sixteen. Shortly after High School she attended Stanford University. In 1950, Miss Day received a degree from Stanford in Economics. Two years later, she received her L.L.B. degree, graduating third in a class of 102 students. One of the two men who scored higher than Sandra is William H. Rehquist who became Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Six months after Sandra's graduation, she married a Law student named John Jay O'Connor, whom she met while working on the Stanford Law Review. They had 200 guests attend the wedding at the Lazy B ranch.

Mrs. O'Connor promptly began looking for a job, but encountered much sex discrimination in the work force. Even though she was one of the highest qualified for the jobs, the firms were not prepared for a female worker and they did not want to change their policies. Eventually Sandra received a job working for Gibson, Dunn and Cruther in Los Angeles as a legal secretary. Amazingly enough, one of the firm's partners was future United States Attorney General, William French Smith who would one day advise the President of the United States to appoint Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court.

In 1953 John was drafted into the army during the Korean War, and stationed in Frankfurt, West Germany. There Sandra was hired as a civilian lawyer for the Quartermaster Corps. Three years later John's tour of duty was over.

In December, 1956 the O'Connors built a new house in Phoenix, Arizona. Phoenix is where Sandra's life changed dramatically. On October 8, 1957, she gave birth to her first child Scott Hampton O'Connor. Within the next five years, she had two more sons, Brian and Jay. During Sandra's child rearing years, she performed different part-time jobs as a lawyer. She would take cases that dealt with landlord-tenant, domestics, and even people who could not afford lawyers. In 1960 she served as a county precinct committee member for the Republican party, and in 1962 to 1965 as legislative district chairman. In 1965, when her youngest son turned three, Sandra reentered the legal profession.

Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed State Senator in 1969 and was reelected to two two-year terms in Arizona. She was elected Senate Majority Leader in 1972. In 1979, she was elected judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court, Phoenix, Arizona for four years. She was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals by Governor Bruce Babbitt from 1979 to 1981. And next, Sandra Day O'Connor was nominated by President Ronald Reagan as Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

This is the life of the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court. Sandra Day O'Connor found her way through hard times of sexual discrimination and eventually obtained some of her goals. Sandra supports her Republican beliefs which remain moderate to conservative. The most important contribution to women that Sandra offers is the fact that she is a strong, competent, qualified and respected Justice on the Supreme Court. Sandra Day O'Connor has blazed a trail for women of all ages.

Huber, Peter W. (1990). Sandra Day O'Connor. New York, NY: Chelsea House.

Davis, Anita P. Dr. and Selvidge, Marla J. Dr. (1995). Focus on Women. Huntington Beach, CA: Teacher Created Materials.

O'Connor, Sandra Day. (1996). Pioneer. Utah's Online Electronic Library. [On-Line]. Available:


1. Students will be able to describe the achievements and positions that Sandra Day O'Connor has held.

2. Students will be able to give specific dates of Sandra Day O'Connors achievements and positions.

3. Students will become familiar with court procedures.

4. Students will list some goals and achievements that they want to accomplish in their future.

5. Students will be able to identify other great achievements performed by women.

Time Allotment: Approximately one week or 5 class periods.

Resources Needed:
Resources of successful women
Procedures of an actual court case
Guest speaker (local judge or lawyer)
Index cards with questions and answers listed
Court room supplies

Think-Pair-Share. After reading the background of Sandra Day O'Connor, individually, have the students think of and write down important achievements and positions that Sandra Day O'Connor has held. Arrange the students into pairs and have them compare answers together. As a class, make a list of important achievements and positions Sandra Day O'Connor has held.

2. Turn-2-Think. In groups of four or five, pass out question cards relating to Sandra
. Day O'Connor's achievements and positions and the dates when she achieved them.
Pass out answer cards separate the question cards. Have one person read the question
card and the person sitting to the left answer the question. Check the answers as you

3. Guest Speaker. After discussing with the students that Sandra Day O'Connor has held
many positions, like being a Lawyer and a Judge, have a local Lawyer or Judge visit
the class and explain some of the work that they do. Have the guest discuss some of
the procedures that are done in an actual court room. Remind the students that Sandra
Day O'Connor has held both positions.

4. Role Play. Using the information received by the guest speaker and researching more,
prepare a mock trial in the classroom. State an issue that the students may be aware of
and then assign create positions for the students to play. Positions are as follows: a
Judge, Jury, Defendant, Lawyers, Clerk, Security, etc.. Try to include the whole class
in the court case. Remember that the students are in charge.

Jig Saw. Like Sandra Day O'Connor, there are many other great women who have
achieved outstanding things. Allow the students library time to find other great
women. Student partners can be allow also. After the information has been found,
arrange students with different students and share the information. Make sure
everyone gets a chance to share their findings.

Mini-Lecture. Using all the information given thus far, review Sandra Day O'Connor
and her achievements. Reflect on the guest speaker and their information concerning
court cases. Remember to discuss other important women and what they have

Learning Journal. In the students learning journal, have the students reflect what they
they have learned about Sandra Day O'Connor. Have them reflect what they have
learned about court cases. Last, have the students write down some goals and
achievements that they would like to achieve in the future.

Group lists in Think-Pair-Share will be assessed through teacher observation.
Groups will be monitored for question/answer accuracy while performing the Turn-2-Think activity.
A one page paper will be assessed concerning the guest speaker and what was said.
A Sandra Day O'Connor achievement and position time line will be assessed.
Learning Journals will be handed in and reviewed by the teacher. No grade will be given.