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Eleanor Davis helped form the Oregon Council for Women’s Equality in 1971, and became a chief advocate for the advancement of women in Oregon. Through her social activism and political advocacy, Oregon passed the Equal Rights Amendment, after which Davis went on to serve the state in a variety of volunteer capacities. Her passions for women’s equality and social justice led her to service on the Task Force on Sex Discrimination in Education, the State Advisory Council on Sex Discrimination in Employment, the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, and a variety of other civil rights-related commissions and task forces.
Active in volunteer political activities in the late sixties and seventies, Gretchen Kafoury founded Oregon NOW in 1970 and the Oregon Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. She also served as a lobbyist for the Equal Rights Alliance. In 1977, when her husband successfully ran for the State Senate, she ran for and won his vacant House seat. She served the Oregon Legislature as State Representative from inner northeast and southeast Portland from 1977 until 1982. She was elected as a Multnomah County Commissioner in 1985, serving northeast Portland. In 1991, she was elected to the Portland City Council, where she served until 1998. Her priorities during her service to the city included fair housing, community development, civil rights, and the arts. Kafoury was a founding board member of the Center for Women, Politics & Policy, and taught in the Hatfield School of Government at PSU for 10 years before retiring in 2008. She received the Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
Vera Katz was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1972, where she became the first woman Speaker of the House in 1985 and served as Speaker for three consecutive terms. During her tenure she authored the Oregon Educational Art for the 21st Century, a landmark school reform bill, the state’s groundbreaking gun control legislation, and legislation prohibiting discrimination based on gender. In 1992 she was elected Mayor of Portland and served from 1993 until 2005. During her tenure she encouraged downtown development, advanced public transportation, created and improved parks and other public areas, and overall contributed greatly to Portland’s status as a livable city. In 2008, the Center for Women, Politics & Policy honored Katz with a Lifetime Achievement award for her service to the state.
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As the first African American woman to be elected to the Oregon State Senate, Avel Gordly has been a dedicated advocate for civil rights and education for all Oregonians. She has been recognized for her support for mental health and is the founder of the African-American Mental Health Commission. Senator Gordly represented the Oregon Senate’s 23rd District from 1997 to 2009. Previously she was a member of the Oregon House of Representatives from 1991 through 1996, representing north and northeast Portland. In recognition of Gordly’s activism for community mental health resources, Oregon Health & Science University opened the Avel Gordly Center for Healing in 2008. The Center for Women, Politics & Policy honored her in 2008 with its annual Leadership Luncheon Award for her political work in service to others.
Barbara Roberts was elected the first woman Governor of the state of Oregon in 1990, serving from 1991 through 1995. During her term as Governor, Roberts worked with the Clinton administration to secure federal waivers and funding for the Oregon Health Plan. She also helped to increase the number of children in the Head Start program, secured financing for additional units of affordable housing, and developed programs to help move Oregonians from welfare to the workplace. Prior to her tenure as Governor, Barbara Roberts was a member of the Oregon House and was Oregon’s first female House Majority Leader from 1983 to 1984. She was elected Secretary of State in 1984 and reelected to that position in 1988. Roberts served in many capacities in the Hatfield School of Government at PSU and was the founding board chair of the Center for Women, Politics & Policy. She received the Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
Roberts’ political career began in 1964 when she was elected as a state representative in the Oregon legislature. Four years later, she was elected the sole woman in the state Senate. In 1974 she narrowly lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary. The following year, the Oregon Women’s Political Caucus named her the Woman of the Year. In 1977, her former gubernatorial opponent Governor Robert Straub appointed her to the Oregon Court of Appeal and she became the first woman on any appellate court in the state. She became the first woman to serve on the Oregon Supreme Court, when she was appointed by Governor Victor Atiyeh. Throughout her legislative and judicial career she championed women’s rights. In 2004, she presided over the first same-sex marriage in Oregon, during a brief period when Multnomah County issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In 2009, the Center for Women, Politics & Policy honored Roberts with its Lifetime Achievement for her service to Oregon.
The Center for Women, Politics & Policy, housed in the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University, is the only Center of its kind in the Northwest. Center programs include the award-winning service program for college women throughout Oregon, NEW Leadership Oregon and Teens Lead, civic leadership training for teen girls, and our growing collection resources for students and citizens to study women’s history and leadership.
Center for Women, Politics & Policy
Hatfield School of Government
P.O. Box 751
Portland OR 97207-0751
Through the generous donations of their personal political papers to the Portland State Library's Special Collections, a notable group of Oregon's trailblazing women leaders have helped create a powerful educational tool for students and citizens interested in the role of women in shaping Oregon's history.
The Center for Women, Politics & Policy has partnered with Portland State Library and the Black Studies Department to provide a home for a growing archive of political papers from Oregon's trailblazing women leaders, as part of the University's Special Collections.