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Justice Cowgirl

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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.

Last October, O’Connor sat for 25 artists. The works, from realistically rendered busts to loosely sketched profiles, were recently on view at the National Portrait Gallery.

(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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