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Tweet Illustrates Sandra Day O'Connor's Struggle as a Woman Lawyer

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

In the Ruth Bader Ginsburg era, sometimes it's easy to forget what Sandra Day O'Connor went through to become the first female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

O'Connor was appointed in 1981, ending 191 years of Supreme Court history without a woman on the bench. She retired in 2006, but she and her legacy live on.

While her legal career has largely been written, occasionally that history rewrites itself. Like last week, when Twitter revealed that she was admitted to federal practice as "Mrs. John O'Connor."

Could Not Get a Job

The judicial tidbit did not set off a tweet storm, but it reminded Twitter users that O'Connor labored at a time when a woman lawyer could not even get a job. Here's a sampling of their comments:

  • "Are you serious? What an incredible piece of history."
  • "Women had to fight to even be allowed to enter law school and join the bar."
  • Ginsburg finished top of her class at Columbia. When she applied to jobs, most assumed she was applying there to be secretary or paralegal."

Sean Marotta, who first published the "Mrs. John O'Connor" tweet, said he saw it on an exhibit at the Court. He said he has not confirmed it since then, but guessed that it was a practice for the Court to recognize women lawyers as "Mrs."

John J. O'Connor III, the late husband of the retired justice, was also an attorney. They met while students at Stanford Law School and were married until his death in 2009, when he succumbed to his 20-year-battle with Alzheimer's.

"Things Have Changed"

Since then, O'Connor has been active. On occasion, she has taken assignments with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals -- where she was first admitted as a "Mrs."

After Elena Kagan was nominated to become the fourth woman to serve on the High Court, O'Connor recalled what it was like in the beginning. She said nobody would hire her then, so she volunteered to work for the county attorney in San Mateo, California.

"I worked for no money, and I put my desk in with the secretary," she said. "I must say, things have changed since then, haven't they?"

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