Even though she’s been retired from the bench for more than seven years, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor hasn’t lost her ability to shrewdly sidestep a question with political tilt. On Thursday, Sept. 5, Justice O’Connor sat down for an interview style presentation with the director of the Andrus Center, David Adler.
Every time Adler asked a question, O’Connor turned it back on him. She told stories of her childhood, early career and time on the bench all without ever giving a concrete answer to Adler’s question. Despite being the interviewee, O’Connor was in firm control of the conversation. Steering the dialogue in her preferred direction, she shut down Adler’s every attempt to lead it elsewhere.
The exchange became the talking point of the conference. Many of the key presenters, and Adler himself, made jokes about how easily Justice O’Connor had dismissed him.
“Just an update: the bumps and bruises are coming out. And I really don’t mind, but just don’t tell anyone it was an 80 year-old woman who did it.” -David Adler
Karen Crouse is a sports columnist for the New York Times. She had a successful run as a swimmer at the University of Southern California where she says she, “majored in journalism and minored in chlorine.”
Crouse spoke about her experience in challenging Augusta National’s policy banning women from membership. As she finished she received a round of applause. She stared out at the audience stunned by the warm reception after spending so long in the male dominated sports world.
“I’m so used to being tolerated that being celebrated is a unique experience for me.”
Alexandra Fuller is an author and journalist. She is of British descent but was raised in Africa. The theme of Fuller’s presentation was “Silence is the Only Taboo.”
Fuller spoke the overwhelming feeling of love she had for her newborn. She had the crowd laughing as she compared her baby to the Messiah, then brought a profound silence to the room as she spoke about how women are missing the opportunity to use that love to make a difference in the world.
“If we could surge out on that wave of love that we have for our babies…war would end. Injustice would end because we would honor each other’s children as we have honored our own.”
A panel made up of five of Idaho’s most successful women answered questions about how they achieved success here in the Gem State. Participants included the first women to serve on the Idaho Supreme Court, Linda Copple Trout, Superintendent Luna’s Chief of Staff Lucy Willits, member of the Idaho Senate Cherie Buckner Webb, president and CEO of Lemas Investment Group, Nancy Lemas and Channel 7 news anchor Dee Sarton.
Each panelist was asked how they defined success. When the question reached Willits she sat there for a moment with a thoughtful look on her face. Pensively she responded, “Often I think success is just survival.” She had to wait for the applause to die down before she could continue.
“For women the days are long and the years are short… When you are a survivor you are successful. “
Anne Taylor Fleming is an author and a journalist who spent more than 20 years on the PBS Newshour. Fleming’s presentation was aimed at young women and the things they should know, or their mother’s should tell them, about being a women in today’s society.
Through most of her remarks, Fleming was lighthearted, comparing her list to one of David Letterman’s top ten lists and advising women to twerk only with other women. However when she talked about regret she took on a somber tone. She spoke about how, in pursuit of her career, she delayed having children until it was too late. She encouraged women who want kids not to assume there will always be time.
“The end result was I didn’t get a baby. If you don’t want children, that’s fine. If you do, you have to pay attention that… This is one thing that will get away from you.”
Barbara Morgan was a third grade teacher in McCall, Idaho when she was chosen to participate in NASA’s teacher in space program. In 2007 she was assigned to the space shuttle Endeavor and launched on a two week mission to the International Space Station.
At the conference, Morgan spoke about women and risk. Morgan spoke on how girls are often discouraged from physical risk; it has been fairly recently that women have been allowed into dangerous jobs. However, as Morgan said, a bigger disservice is that we are protecting women from emotional risk and stunting their growth.
“Risk is a part of life, and life is steeped in risks. There’s hardly a moment in our lives where we don’t have some kind of risk.”
Caroline Heldman is the Chair of the Politics Department and Occidental College in Los Angeles. She specializes in the presidency and systems of power, such as race, class, gender and sexuality, in the United States.
She spoke on myths that keep women out of high achieving positions. One of these is the old adage of the “glass ceiling.” She says the challenges women face are more similar to a labyrinth. There isn’t a point that women reach where their progress is capped, rather they are faced with a series of dead ends throughout their careers.
“The barriers to women’s leadership actually start when women are little girls. We are discouraged from being ambitious. So instead of this glass ceiling at the end of our careers… we actually are discouraged from leadership positions pretty much from the time we come out of the womb.”
For her keynote address, O’Connor spoke on the work she’s done since retiring from the bench. O’Connor has been key in the creation of ICivics, an online center where children can go and play games which serve to enhance their civic education.
O’Connor spoke about her journey from a remote farm in Arizona to the Supreme Court bench where she sat perched on a pillow embroidered with the bold phrase, “Maybe in error, but never in doubt.” Through the entire journey, O’Connor approached everything with a bold, self-deprecating wit.
“I’m just an un-employed cow girl. At the same time, I’m aware of the fact that my life and my career have spanned some complex, contentious and important periods in our nation’s history.”