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The Only Woman in the Room

The Norma Paulus Story

Norma Paulus, Gail Wells and Pat McCord Amacher

6 × 9. B&W Photographs and illustrations. 288 pages.

2017. ISBN 978-0-87071-895-3. Paperback, $24.95.

Norma Petersen Paulus grew up in Depression-era poverty in Eastern Oregon. She survived a bout with polio in her teens, taught herself to be a legal secretary, and graduated from law school with honors despite not attending college first. Anyone with such a story would be remarkable, but she was just getting started.

Paulus came from a family of Roosevelt Democrats, but when a friend campaigned for a Republican seat in the state legislature, she switched parties. As she put it, "The Republicans were in politics for all the right reasons." Amid the nationwide political upheavals of the late 1960s, Oregon’s Republicans, led by popular governor Tom McCall, seemed to be her kind of people—principled, pragmatic, and committed to education, the environment, and equality for all citizens under the law.

Paulus’s appointment by Governor McCall to the Marion-Polk Boundary Commission in 1969, a precursor to Oregon’s urban growth boundaries, helped launched her on a long and distinguished career of public service. She ran successfully for the Oregon House of Representatives in 1970.

After three terms in the House, where she championed environmental causes, women’s rights, and government transparency, she was elected Oregon’s Secretary of State in 1976—the first woman to be elected to a statewide office in Oregon. She was the Republican candidate for governor in 1986, served a stint on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, went on to become Oregon’s superintendent of public instruction, and headed the Oregon Historical Society.

During her years of public service, spanning the 1970s through the early 2000s, Norma Paulus occupied a distinctive niche in Oregon’s progressive political ecosystem. Her vivid personality and strong convictions endeared her to a broad swath of citizens. Engaging and opinionated, charming and forceful, Paulus was widely covered in statewide and national newspapers and television during her eventful, sometimes controversial career. Now, The Only Woman in the Room documents her life and work in a lively, anecdotal history that will appeal to historians, political scientists, newshounds, and ordinary citizens alike.

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