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Sandra Day O'Connor Received Four Marriage Proposals in College — Including from Her Soon-to-Be Famous Ex

Before building a life with Stanford Law classmate John Jay O'Connor, the future Supreme Court justice fielded multiple requests for her hand in marriage

undefined Then-Supreme Court nominee Sandra Day O
undefined Then-Supreme Court nominee Sandra Day O'Connor in 1981

While Sandra Day O'Connor ultimately settled down with her Stanford Law classmate John Jay O'Connor, it wasn't for lack of proposals from "multiple" other suitors — including one who would later serve with her on the nation's highest court.

In her first year at Stanford Law, Sandra dated classmate William Rehnquist, the future chief justice of the Supreme Court.

According to the biography First by author Evan Thomas, Sandra was 19 years old and the only woman in her class. Rehnquist was 26. The two initially built their romance exchanging class notes, but by December of her second year, Sandra had already ended their relationship. Still, they stayed friends, or rather “study buddies,” until Rehnquist graduated and headed to Washington, D.C., for a Supreme Court clerkship.

Related: Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, First Woman to Sit on the Supreme Court, Dies at 93

<p>AP</p> Sandra Day O'Connor during her college years

AP

Sandra Day O'Connor during her college years

After they broke up, Sandra bonded with another classmate, John Jay O'Connor, over beers as they worked on the school's prestigious law review.

She soon began dating John — but 40 days into her new relationship, she received a letter from Rehnquist proposing marriage.

"To be specific, Sandy, will you marry me this summer?" Rehnquist wrote in the note, which was revealed in First. She said no.

According to the book, she would receive a total of four marriage proposals during her time at Stanford, ultimately choosing to spend her life with John. The two were engaged by the time of their law school graduation in 1952.

Related: Sandra Day O'Connor Spoke Passionately About Her Husband's Alzheimer's Journey Long Before Her Symptoms Began

<p>David Hume Kennerly/Getty</p> Sandra and John O'Connor at home with their sons Scott, Jay and Brian in 1981

David Hume Kennerly/Getty

Sandra and John O'Connor at home with their sons Scott, Jay and Brian in 1981

Sandra and John had three sons together in the decade that followed: Scott, Brian and Jay.

News that Rehnquist had popped the question initially "surprised" her children, Jay told NPR in 2018. "Multiple men proposed to my mom when she was in college and law school," he said, "and ultimately my dad was the one who was the real deal."

She remained married to John until his death in 2009 from Alzheimer’s — the same disease that is believed to have contributed to her death 14 years later.

Related: Sandra Day's Ranch Roots: Look Back at PEOPLE's 1981 Cover Story on the First Female Supreme Court Justice

<p>David Hume Kennerly/Getty</p> Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (R) and her husband, John Jay O'Connor, at their home, circa 1981, in Paradise Valley, Arizona

David Hume Kennerly/Getty

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (R) and her husband, John Jay O'Connor, at their home, circa 1981, in Paradise Valley, Arizona

In October 2018, Sandra's family released a letter from the 24-year Supreme Court veteran announcing that she had dementia and was "no longer able to participate in public life."

"How fortunate I feel to be an American and to have been presented with the remarkable opportunities available to the citizens of our country," she wrote. "As a young cowgirl from the Arizona desert, I never could have imagined that one day I would become the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court."

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Sandra died in Phoenix, Arizona, on Dec. 1, 2023, at the age of 93.

The court announced her death in a statement, citing "complications related to advanced dementia, probably Alzheimer’s, and a respiratory illness."

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