Roxana Cannon Arsht, Delaware’s first female judge

The Hon. Roxana Arsht once described herself as “gutsy, independent and not afraid to challenge the status quo.” She is one of the most influential people of the past 50 years because she was a doer. She never settled for the comfortable life of a wife of a highly successful corporate lawyer, a fair description of her husband S. Samuel Arsht, Esq. Roxana was a 1939 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. In 1941 she became the fifth woman admitted to the Delaware bar. At that time, there were no opportunities available to her in the practice of law. Roxana’s legal skills empowered her—mother of two daughters—to make substantial contributions in the fight for women’s reproductive rights. When she got involved, contraception was illegal. The issue of abortion was years on the horizon. Roxana dedicated much of her time and energy to the development of the Delaware office of Planned Parenthood. In 1962 Roxana began working as a volunteer master in Delaware’s Family Court. Nine years later Gov. Russell W. Peterson appointed her a judge of that court. At the age of 56 she became the first woman to hold a judicial position in Delaware. By being a remarkable role model, she opened the doors for many women who followed in the Family Court and every other court in the state. After Roxana completed her term, her philanthropic work continued in earnest. She and Sam contributed $2 million to the capital campaign which culminated in the construction of Arsht Hall, the main building of the University of Delaware’s Academy of Lifelong Learning, now the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Roxana was a trustee of Christiana Care Corp. for close to 30 years, until her death, and served as the first woman on the board of the then-Medical Center of Delaware from 1993 to 1997. But it was Sam’s bout with cancer, and the challenges they encountered in managing his treatment, that inspired what may be Roxana’s most enduring tribute. Before his death, Sam Arsht donated $2.5 million to support the construction of the Roxana Cannon Arsht Surgicenter. The surgicenter was dedicated on Feb. 29, 2000, which was precisely 60 years from the day Sam asked her to marry him. The loving legacy has provided a place for more than 127,000 surgical procedures since it opened. In the past five years, it has served nearly 29,000 patients and its volume continues to rise. It has proven to be a fitting memorial to the woman who lived her life with an unwavering commitment to public service.

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