Paper pub. date
May 2017
ISBN 9780870718953 (paperback)
6 x 9, 288 pages. B&W Photographs and illustrations.

The Only Woman in the Room

The Norma Paulus Story

Pat McCord Amacher, Norma Paulus, and Gail E. Wells

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.

About the author

Pat McCord Amacher is a former newspaper reporter and teacher of writing who works in business communications and writes freelance in creative nonfiction. Over her thirty years in Oregon as a transplanted Midwesterner, she has developed a special interest in the state’s history and art.

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Norma Paulus was a lawyer and republican politician in the state of Oregon. Born in Nebraska during the Great Depression, Paulus and her family left their farm to escape the Dust Bowl and moved to Oregon, in search of new opportunities. Paulus was raised in Eastern Oregon, where she overcame poverty and polio to become a legal secretary and graduated from law school with honors, despite not attending college. She was elected as a representative to the Oregon state legislature in 1970 and served three terms representing Marion County. Paulus then became the first woman elected to statewide office in Oregon in her successful bid for Secretary of State in 1976. After a narrow loss in her run for governor, Paulus served on the Northwest Power Planning Council, two terms as Oregon Superindendent of Public Instruction, and as the executive director of the Oregon Historical Society.

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Gail Wells is the author of The Tillamook: A Created Forest Comes of Age and co-author of Lewis and Clark Meet Oregon’s Forests. She worked for Oregon State University’s College of Forestry for 13 years as editor, writer, and finally director of Forestry Communications. Since 2002, she has been a freelance writer and editor specializing in history and natural resources. She lives in Corvallis, Oregon.

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"[Gail] Wells's and [Pat McCord] Amacher's sources include hundreds of pages of oral histories Norma had done for the Oregon Historical Society, newspaper archives, government documents, campaign materials and interviews with family members, friends and colleagues - sources that provided a great deal of information about a remarkable woman, and tell a story that is a really good read."
- Nancie Peacocke Fadeley, The Register-Guard

"Wells and Amacher succeed in presenting a detailed view of Paulus' exuberant (and sometimes pricklish) personality and of her strong ambitions. In short, her story is well worth preserving for future generations of Oregonians."
- Jeff Maples, Oregon Historical Quarterly

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