For many years, one nickname of the U.S. Supreme Court was "the nine old men."
That changed in 1981.
Following the retirement of Associate Justice Potter Stewart, President Ronald Reagan was tasked with naming a successor. Women's rights groups and liberal politicians had long lobbied for a woman on the nation's highest court. Reagan decided to make that happen and nominated Judge Sandra Day O'Connor from Arizona to fill Stewart's seat on the court.
O'Connor was a wise choice. She was a moderate, more conservative than liberal but clearly closer to the center than to the edge. Her nomination helped reassured conservatives who feared a woman might be too liberal and those on the left who felt anyone Reagan named would be too far to the right.
She grew up on a ranch in Texas, got her law degree from Stanford and navigated the difficult path for a female attorney in Arizona in the 1950s, where she and her husband moved after he got out of the Army.
She practiced law, raised her children and moved into Republican politics, serving as assistant state attorney general and then in the state Senate, where she was eventually elected majority leader. In 1975 she was appointed to the state Court of Appeals.
This combination of judicial and political experience would serve her well on the U.S. Supreme Court, where she quickly became known as the swing vote between the court's right and left flanks.
On the court she tended to side with the conservatives more often but wasn't afraid to break ranks on matters of civil liberties and equal rights.
O'Connor retired from the court in 2006, primarily to take care of her husband, who was suffering from Alzheimer's, the same disease that would afflict her years later. He died in 2009. And last week the first woman named to the U.S. Supreme Court passed away at age 93.
Sandra Day O'Connor blazed new trails throughout her life. And she leaves a lasting legacy for the future.