7 Items That Were Probably On Sandra Day O'Connor's To-Do List

On this day in 1981, Sandra Day O'Connor became the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court. What followed was a 25 year career of swing votes and dissent that paved the way for other women justices: O'Connor was joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993. In 2009, President Obama recognized O'Connor's service by awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. 

Such a groundbreaking career could not have happened without a bit of direction, so we imagined Sandra Day O'Connor's life to-do list. If she had actually written these things down, she could put a check mark next to every one. Her real-life goal is to, "Work at work worth doing"; we can add that to the list of achieved to-dos. 

Click through to read about O'Connor's achievements, coupled with photos from her historical appointment and career in Court.


1. Ride Wild Horses O'Connor grew up on a cattle ranch half in Arizona and half in New Mexico. The nearest town was about 35 miles away, and there was no electricity or running water. A family of skunks lived under the porch. She rode a wild horse that she loved because, she says, “If I fell off, Chico would stop and wait for me.”

2. Give Up Cattle Rancher Dreams O’Connor wanted to be a cattle rancher when she grew up. “I didn’t know lawyers, I knew cattle people!” But after she met a law professor as an undergrad at Stanford, her career ambitions changed. “I thought he was the finest teacher I had ever had…Because of that professor, I decided to apply to law school,” she told MAKERS. 

3. Embrace New Experiences She led Arizona’s Republican majority in the Arizona state senate. It was only a majority of one, and O’Connor describes it as “hard as it can be.” But, “it was a new experience, and it was the first time in the United States that a woman served in a legislative leadership post.” 

4. Amend Every Law That Discriminates Against Women As the first female majority leader of a state legislature, “One of the things that I did as a state senator was to examine every single law on the books in the state of Arizona that discriminated against women or could be said to. We amended every single one to make it fair.”

5. Write Pithy Note to New York Times O’Connor sent this letter to The New York Times after the paper published an article referring to the “nine old men” of the Supreme Court.

6. Defend Women’s Reproductive Rights She upheld women’s fundamental right to choose. In 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, O’Connor argued: “Some of us as individuals find abortion offensive to our most basic principles of morality. But that can’t control our decision. Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code.”  

7. Stay Loyal to Family O'Connor retired from the court in order to take care of her husband, the man who encouraged her to accept Reagan’s appointment in the first place. She told MAKERS her husband said, "‘Say yes! You’ll be fine.’ He had a lot more confidence than I did.”