Sandra Day O'Connor

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Language Arts, Reading, Reading Comprehension, Writing, Social Studies, United States History

Grade 5- 8


Students learn about the first female judge of the United States Supreme Court in honor of Women's History Month. They answer questions about the judicial branch of the United States government.


First Female Associate Justice
What does it take to be appointed to the highest court in the land? How long did Sandra prepare for her job? How did she have time to be a mother, a deputy attorney, assistant attorney general, a state senator, and a judge for 24 years?
From the time Sandra was a child living on a ranch in Arizona, she excelled at everything. She learned how to read by the time she was four, drove a truck at the age of eight, and could ride a horse with the best of them. Her parents knew that raising a little girl all by herself out in the middle of a huge ranch was going to be a tough job. When it was time for Sandra to go to school, her parents decided to send her to El Paso, the big city, to live with her grandparents, Mamie and Willis Wiley. Sandra would never live on the ranch full-time again. From a private school in El Paso to graduating third in her class at Stanford, Sandra was always an achiever. She worked very hard to be the best student she could be.
Sandra loved ranching and geology and does not remember why she chose law as a career. She did admit that studying the law kept her busy because there were so many ways of interpreting the law. While she was in college, she met her future husband, John O'Connor. After graduation, her husband was offered five positions in law firms, but Sandra could not find a job as an attorney.
No one wanted a woman. She was offered a position as a legal secretary. This roadblock did not stop her. She soon secured the job of Assistant Deputy County Attorney of San Mateo, California.
Sandra was always persistent. She was a quiet, organized, and efficient woman who never let anything fluster her. She was in control, no matter what happened to her or around her. Sandra said that she would prefer practicing law to being a head of state.
Sandra Day O'Connor became the first woman associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. In 1981, during Ronald Reagan's presidency, she succeeded the retiring Justice Potter Stewart.
Suggested Activities

  1. Knowledge: What kind of education was Sandra given?
  2. Comprehension: Was Sandra always successful?
  3. Creative Thinking: Why do you think that Sandra wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice?
  4. Application: Have you ever thought about being an attorney or running for an office? For which office would you run?
  5. Analysis: Can all women have such spectacular careers and also be good mothers?
  6. Synthesis: Can anyone become a Supreme Court Justice?
  7. Evaluation: Is your life similar to Sandra's? In what ways? In what ways does it differ?
  8. Affective: Would you have the energy and resolve to become a Supreme Court Justice?

    1. Skills Focus
    • Language and Communication Skills: Write a letter to your representative in congress and ask him/her to give you the reasons for becoming a public official.
    • Independent Study Skills: What kinds of courts can be found on the state and national levels? Describe all of these in their own paragraphs.
    • Manipulative Skills: Ask an adult to take you horseback riding.

    1. Social Studies
    • The Judicial System: Encourage students to learn more about the judicial system. Provide classroom resources or allow library time, if possible, for students to research information on the judicial branch. Divide the class into groups and provide each group with questions about the judicial system. Have groups provide feedback on their findings to the class. As an alternative, divide the class into three groups and assign each group a different branch of the United States government to research. Each group can prepare a large chart that demonstrates how a particular branch works (similar to the chart on page 105).

    1. Social Studies
    • Women in Government: Ask women in the community who hold positions in city or county government to visit your school. Have students prepare questions to ask them about their achievements and why they chose a career in government.


  • Judicial Branch activity sheet
  • pencils
  • classroom or library resource materials

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