Celebrating the Trailblazing Women We Lost in 2023
As the year draws to a close, we wanted to celebrate the lives and legacies of some of the influential, groundbreaking women we lost in 2023.
From former first lady Rosalynn Carter and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, to musical icons Tina Turner and Sinead O’Connor — they fearlessly advocated for women’s rights and civil rights — rising to prominence in traditionally male-dominated industries.
Former first lady Rosalynn Carter, 96
Rosalynn Carter — the former first lady who championed mental health care, among many social justice causes — passed away in November, leaving a legacy of impact second only to Eleanor Roosevelt.
Mrs. Carter provided steady counsel to her husband, former President Jimmy Carter, throughout his political career. She was widely regarded for her political shrewdness, drawing particular praise for her keen electoral instincts and the skillful way she connected with voters.
The former first lady became an active part of her husband’s administration, where she participated in Cabinet meetings, attended key briefings, spoke on behalf of the White House at ceremonial gatherings, served as an honorary member on a mental health commission, and traveled to Latin American nations as the president’s personal envoy.
Independently, she devoted herself to several social causes in the course of her public life, including programs that supported health care resources, human rights, social justice and the needs of elderly people.
In 1982, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter founded the Carter Center, a nonprofit human rights organization forged in partnership with Emory University in Atlanta.
In 1987, she founded the Institute for Caregivers, building on her belief that “everyone is a caregiver now, has been a caregiver, or will either be or need a caregiver in the future,” according to the organization’s website.
In 1999, the two were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.
Upon her passing, President Carter said in a statement: “Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished. She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me.”
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 93
As the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor left an indelible impact on gender equity, becoming one of the most powerful women in the country over the course of her 25 years on the bench.
Although she was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 as a conservative voice on the closely divided court, her pragmatic approach to legal decision-making often made her the undisputed swing vote on some of the most contentious cases, including abortion, voting rights and affirmative action.
She sided with the court’s conservatives in approving taxpayer-funded vouchers for students at religious schools, voting to end the 2000 Florida recount between George W. Bush and Al Gore, and advocating for states’ rights against federal control.
But she decided with the court’s liberals in affirming abortion rights, upholding affirmative action in college admissions, and approving the creation of more congressional districts with Black voters in the majority.
While Justice O’Connor never served as chief justice, she wielded such influence with her swing vote during a critical time that many informally referred to the court as the O’Connor court.