November 1, 2007
Monday night, the National Portrait Gallery gave the retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor the chance to do her own self-portrait—in words, that is.
The portrait O’Connor painted for her audience was less the judicial scholar that one might expect. Her salt-of-the-earth story includes some surprising details. Did you know:
• O’Connor is in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame;
• She grew up on her family’s Lazy B Ranch, straddling the New Mexico-Arizona border. “At the ranch, it didn’t matter if you were a man or woman,” she says. “There was work to be done”;
• She played poker with cowboys, drove a truck and shot a .22. “I didn’t know lawyers or judges. I knew cattle people”;
• She was accepted to Stanford University at age 16 without taking a college entrance exam;
• She once took a creative writing class taught by Wallace Stegner;
• As an undergrad, she wanted to be a rancher and had no intention of becoming a judge;
• When she attended law school, the class was 1 percent female. “[Ronald Reagan] opened doors.” Reagan, she says, deserves some of the credit for the increase of female law students—now roughly 50 percent;
• She bargained for her first job as a deputy attorney for California’s San Mateo County, offering to work for free.
(Portrait of Sandra Day O’Connor by Aaron Shikler, Pastel, 2006, Courtesy The Painting Group, New York City, © Aaron Shikler, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.)
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