Name and location of repository
Level of description
Oral history interview with Betty Roberts
- 1992-03-24 - 1994-09-19 (Creation)
.1 cubic feet 32 audiocassettes (30 hr., 34 min., 9 sec.) + index (123 pages) + 1 color photograph (3x5 in.)
Name of creator
Betty Lucille Roberts, nee Cantrell, was born in Kansas in 1923. She grew up in Wichita Falls, Texas, where her family struggled greatly throughout the Depression. In 1942, she married Bill Rice, a drill instructor in the U.S. Army Air Forces, and after the end of World War II, they settled in Portland, Oregon, where he worked as a banker. Roberts continued her education while raising a family, and she graduated from Portland State College in 1958. Rice objected to her acceptance of a high school teaching position, and they divorced soon after. She soon got involved in local politics and was elected to the school board in the Lynch Elementary School District in East Portland, Oregon. In 1960, she married Oregon politician Frank L. Roberts. In 1961, she earned a Master of Science in political science from the University of Oregon, then took night classes at Northwestern College of Law in Portland. She graduated in 1965 and passed the bar in 1966. She was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives as a Democrat while still in law school. She represented Multnomah County in the Oregon House from 1965 to 1968. She and Frank L. Roberts divorced in 1966, and she married Oregon Representative Keith Skelton in 1968, the same year she won a seat in the Oregon Senate, where she served from 1969 to 1977. She ran unsuccessfully for Oregon governor in 1974, and was appointed by Governor Bob Straub to the Oregon Court of Appeals in 1977. She was appointed to the Oregon Supreme Court in 1982 by Governor Vic Atiyeh, and she retired in 1986. After retiring, she focused her efforts on women's rights. She helped found Oregon Women Lawyers in 1989, and she presided over the state's first legal same-sex marriage ceremony in 2004. She died in 2011.
Content and structure elements
Scope and content
This oral history interview of Betty Roberts was conducted by Clark Hansen from March 24, 1992, to September 19, 1994, at Roberts' home in Portland, Oregon. In the interview, Roberts describes her early life and family background, including growing up in Texas during the Depression and her father's alcohol poisoning. She also discusses meeting her first husband, John Willard "Bill" Rice, as well as their marriage and starting a family in Oregon. Roberts discusses attending Portland State College and the strain it put on her marriage to Rice; discrimination she encountered as an older woman student; and pursuing a master's degree at the University of Oregon. She also talks about her divorce from Rice due to his objection to her working outside the home, the divorce's effect on her children, and her subsequent marriage to Frank L. Roberts. She also discusses her divorce from Frank Roberts in 1965.
Roberts discusses her career as an educator, including teaching at high schools in East Portland; serving on school boards; and her activity in the Oregon Education Association. She talks about meeting her third husband, Keith Skelton; civil liberties; her involvement in the Democratic Party; and practicing law. She then talks about her experiences in the Oregon House of Representatives from 1965 to 1968, including campaigning, sexist media coverage, and teaching high school and attending law school at Northwestern College of Law while in the Legislature. Roberts discusses legislation she worked on during her time in the House, primarily on education, including sick leave for teachers and universal kindergarten.
Roberts also discusses her 1968 campaign for the Oregon Senate against Tom Mahoney, as well as the 1968 presidential campaign, including the debate around the Vietnam War and her attendance at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, with U.S. Senator Wayne Morse. She then discusses her experience in the Oregon Senate from 1969 to 1977, including legislation on taxes, particularly sales taxes; women's rights; abortion; environmental issues; rape shield laws; and child custody. She discusses working with Debbs Potts, John D. Burns, and Gracie Peck, and and talks about running for governor against Bob Straub in 1974. She also discusses her run for the U.S. Senate against Bob Packwood the same year. She talks about the various forms of sexism she encountered while in the Senate, the formation of the Women's Caucus in 1973, and support for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Roberts talks about her time as a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals from 1977 to 1982, and about working alongside judges Herbert Schwabe and W. Michael Gillette. She describes being appointed to the Oregon Supreme Court by Governor Vic Atiyeh and the encouragement she received from Norma Paulus. She discusses several cases from the years 1982 to 1986, including cases regarding sex discrimination and misuse of taxpayer monies. She also talks about her law clerk, Maureen Leonard, and about working alongside judges Jacob Tanzer and Mercedes Deiz. Roberts relates her opinion on the efficacy and procedures of the judicial system in Oregon. She discusses her activities after resigning from the court, including her involvement with Oregon Women Lawyers and the Bob Packwood sexual harassment scandal.
System of arrangement
Conditions of access and use elements
Conditions governing access
Collection is open for research.
Incomplete transcript available for in-person access at the OHS Research Library.
Conditions governing reproduction
Copyright held by the Oregon Historical Society. Licensed under Creative Commons - BY-NC-SA: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/
Languages of the material
Scripts of the material
Language and script notes
Acquisition and appraisal elements
Immediate source of acquisition
Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information
Related materials elements
Existence and location of originals
Existence and location of copies
Related archival materials
Preferred citation: Oral history interview with Betty Roberts, by Clark Hansen, SR 1126, Oregon Historical Society Research Library.
Forms part of the Oregon Legislature Oral History Series.
More information about Betty Roberts is available at the Oregon Encyclopedia: https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/roberts_betty_1923_2011_/
Description control element
Rules or conventions
Finding aid based on DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard), 2nd Edition.
Subject access points
- Oregon--Politics and government--20th century
- Abortion--Law and legislation--Oregon
- Depressions--1939--United States
- Educational law and legislation--Oregon
- Environmental law--Oregon
- Equal rights amendments--United States
- Justice, Administration of--Oregon
- Political Campaigns--Oregon
- Presidents--United States--Elections--1968
- Sales tax--Law and legislation--Oregon
- School boards--Oregon
- Sex discrimination
- Taxation--Law and legislation--Oregon
- Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Public opinion
- Women legislators--Oregon
- Women's rights--United States
Place access points
Name access points
- Democratic Party (Or.) (Subject)
- Oregon Education Association (Subject)
- Oregon. Court of Appeals (Subject)
- Oregon. Legislative Assembly (Subject)
- Oregon. Supreme Court (Subject)
- Oregon Women Lawyers (Subject)
- Atiyeh, Victor (Subject)
- Burns, John D. (John David), 1936- (Subject)
- Deiz, Mercedes F. L. (Mercedes Frances Lopez), 1917-2005 (Subject)
- Gillette, W. Michael, 1941- (Subject)
- Leonard, Maureen (Subject)
- Mahoney, Thomas R., 1896-1978 (Subject)
- Morse, Wayne L. (Wayne Lyman), 1900-1974 (Subject)
- Packwood, Bob (Subject)
- Paulus, Norma (Subject)
- Peck, Grace Olivier, 1898-1978 (Subject)
- Potts, Eugene D. (Eugene Debbs), 1908-2003 (Subject)
- Rice, Bill (John Willard), 1917-2008 (Subject)
- Roberts, Frank L. (Frank Livezey), 1915-1993 (Subject)
- Schwabe, Herbert M., 1915-2005 (Subject)
- Skelton, Keith D. (Keith Dexter), 1918-1995 (Subject)
- Straub, Robert W. (Subject)
- Tanzer, Jacob B., 1935-2018 (Subject)
- Hansen, Clark (Subject)