Before she was a Supreme Court justice, Sandra Day O’Connor was a cowgirl
Before Sandra Day O’Connor broke barriers as the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, she was a cowgirl — and she has a spot in Fort Worth’s National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame to prove it.
The 93-year-old justice died Friday in Phoenix.
“I use Sandra Day O’Connor many times as an example of the (hall of fame) honorees … because sometimes people are confused; they’re like, ‘How is she a cowgirl?’ Then you have to explain that cowgirls don’t always wear boots. Sometimes they wear Supreme Court robes,” said fellow hall of fame inductee Pam Minick, part owner of Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth.
O’Connor grew up on a ranch in Arizona and co-wrote a book with her brother, Alan Day, on their experience, titled “Lazy B: Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest.”
The Reagan appointee was confirmed to the Supreme Court bench in 1981.
Twenty-one years later, in 2002, she traveled to Fort Worth for her induction into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and the grand opening of the museum’s new building.
“She considered herself a cowgirl,” said Diana Vela, associate executive director at the museum. “And it’s certainly no surprise to us that the first woman to make it to the Supreme Court was a cowgirl.”
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of her Supreme Court appointment, the museum developed a special exhibition about her ranching roots.
O’Connor and Vela exchanged phone calls and notes about updates and ideas for the exhibition, which contains artifacts from the Lazy B Ranch and political cartoons selected by her family.
“There was a big national conversation at the time about can a female even be a justice? I mean, there were cartoons that said things like get back in the kitchen. I mean, it was really rough as the first woman,” Vela said.
But, as the justice said in her book, she was no stranger to operating in what others considered a man’s domain.
“She was a force,” Vela said. “She was very direct and very purposeful in what she wanted to say and the end results. … She was very interested in land and stewardship, so she never really went far from that ethos.”
On a ranch, everyone works hard regardless of gender, Minick said, and her work ethic was more impressive than her gender.
“When you’re raised on a ranch, you do whatever it takes to get the job done. Horses and cattle really don’t know gender and they don’t read resumes. And so I’m sure that she felt just like most of the cowgirls do when they accomplish something that people might think of as out of the ordinary,” she said.“I’m sure that for her, she didn’t think of herself as a female Supreme Court justice. She probably just thought of herself as a Supreme Court justice who — oh, by the way — just happened to be a female.”
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.
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