Supreme Court of the United States

Sandra Day O’Connor:
First Woman on the Supreme Court


Childhood and Education

“It was no country for sissies, then or now. Making a living there takes a great deal of hard work and considerable luck.”

— Sandra Day O’Connor, Lazy B: Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest

Lazy B Headquarters. Lazy B Headquarters.
Courtesy of the O’Connor Family
Sandra Day at age 12. Sandra Day at age 12.
Courtesy of the O’Connor Family

Growing Up on the Lazy B

Sandra Day O’Connor’s sense of independence, self-reliance, and pragmatism may be attributed to her classic western upbringing. She was born on March 26, 1930, in El Paso, Texas, to Ada Mae and Harry Day, but she spent her formative years on the Lazy B, a 198,000-acre cattle ranch straddling the southern Arizona and New Mexico border. In their memoir, Lazy B: Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest, O’Connor and her brother, Alan Day, lovingly recall how life on a cattle ranch without electricity or indoor plumbing posed many challenges, but instilled in them a strong work ethic.

At the age of 6, Sandra was sent to live with her maternal grandmother in El Paso to attend the Radford School for Girls. The future Justice, however, was often homesick and always looked forward to returning to the Lazy B, where she rode with the cowboys, branded cattle, and fired a .22 caliber rifle.


Lazy B Headquarters. Top row (left to right): Sandra Day riding one of her favorite horses, Chico, at the Lazy B. Windmill on the ranch. Ada Mae Day holding Alan, seated beside Ann and Sandra (far right), age 11.
Bottom row: Friends from the Radford School for Girls visiting the Lazy B.
Courtesy of the O’Connor Family

Defying the Odds

Sandra Day was accepted into Stanford University in 1946 and began her studies at the young age of 16. Sparked by her experience living and working on the Lazy B, she elected a course of study in economics and received her degree in 1950. An economics professor, Harry Rathbun, inspired her to study law, and she enrolled in Stanford Law School as one of five women in her class. Among her male colleagues was William H. Rehnquist, with whom she later served on the Supreme Court for almost a quarter of a century. Her academic success in law school was capped by her induction into the Order of the Coif, a prestigious legal honorary society, as well as her service on the Board of Editors of the Stanford Law Review.


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Sandra Day (front row, fourth from right) and John J. O’Connor III (second row, first on left) stand with the staff of the Stanford Law Review, 1952.
Sandra Day (front row, fourth from right) and John J. O’Connor III (second row, first on left) stand with the staff of the Stanford Law Review, 1952.
Photograph courtesy of Stanford University
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Certificate acknowledging Sandra Day’s service on the Board of Editors of the Stanford Law Review, March 1951.
Certificate acknowledging Sandra Day’s service on the Board of Editors of the Stanford Law Review, March 1951.
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Certificate presented to Sandra Day as part of her induction into the Order of the Coif, a law honor society that fosters excellence in legal scholarship, August 1952.
Certificate presented to Sandra Day as part of her induction into the Order of the Coif, a law honor society that fosters excellence in legal scholarship, August 1952.

 

While working on the Law Review, Sandra Day met her future husband, John J. O’Connor III. “Beware of proofreading over a glass of beer,” she once said. “It can result in unexpected alliances.” The couple wed on December 20, 1952 at the Lazy B Ranch.

The O’Connors’ share a toast at their wedding reception. The O’Connors share a toast at their wedding reception.
Courtesy of the O’Connor Family
The O’Connors’ participate in a cake-cutting ceremony at their wedding reception. The O’Connors participate in a cake-cutting ceremony at their wedding reception.
Courtesy of the O’Connor Family

 


 

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