Governor Barbara Roberts Papers, 1870-2011
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Brief Description:

The Barbara Roberts Papers relate primarily to her political activities, including her lobbying for education for autistic children, her service as a Multnomah County Commissioner, as a State Representative, as Secretary of State, and as governor. Though her official papers from statewide office are held at the Oregon State Archives, her personal papers offer a complementary insight into the many activities—civic, political, and personal—that Roberts was involved in throughout her life. In addition to materials related to her political offices, the collection includes personal papers relating to family and friends, her advocacy of issues such as gay rights, abortion rights, public transit, and environmental conservation, and materials regarding her post-gubernatorial academic positions at Harvard University and Portland State University. Materials date from her elementary school years in Sheridan in 1947 to 2011, though the bulk of the materials fall between 1978 and 2010. Some collected historical documents predate the primary collection records.


The Barbara Roberts Papers are divided into 10 series: Audiovisual; Campaigns; Organizations; Personal; Photographs; Political; Post-gubernatorial; Press; Speeches; and Writings.


Collection materials are comprised of audiovisual materials, calendars, campaign memorabilia, certificates, clippings, correspondence, photographs, press releases, reports, manuscripts, newsletters, notes, pins, printed materials, scrapbooks, signs, speeches, textiles, travel materials, and other materials created, collected, or received by Barbara Roberts. Two 3.5” floppy disks present in the collection have been migrated, and are now accessible digitally for on-site users, as are images of plaques and memorabilia that have been returned to Roberts.

Held at:
Finding Aids: Special Collections & University Archives
1875 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR 97201
Email: specialcollections [at]
Record Series Number: SC/2005.3
Created by: Roberts, Barbara (1936-)
Volume: 49.0 Linear Feet
Acquired: 09/13/2005.
Arrangement: The original order of the collection has, for the most part, been preserved where present; this order is reflected most clearly in the Speeches series and in the Press by Subject subseries. Beyond these instances, original order was only clearly identifiable at a folder level, and this order has been preserved where present. All original folder titles have been preserved in quotations, though additional descriptive information has been added to further clarify in many cases. Other materials have been grouped into series by subject or format, with an attempt to highlight the distinct stages of Roberts’ career and her involvement with various groups and individuals at both the state and national levels. Within series, except in the cases of following original order (such as for manuscript drafts), subseries and folders have, for the most part, been arranged alphabetically. A notable exception is within the Political Activities series, which has been arranged to roughly reflect the trajectory of Roberts’ career. The audiovisual materials have also been arranged chronologically. When following a chronological order, more general dates follow more specific dates, with undated materials appearing last; when following orders of importance or other internal groupings, more general items follow last.
Biographical Note for Roberts, Barbara (1936-) :

The first woman to be elected Governor in Oregon, Barbara Roberts (1936-) served in that position from 1991-1995.  Prior to her term and in the subsequent years, Roberts has been actively involved in Portland and Oregon politics and community organizations. A fourth-generation Oregonian, Roberts was born Barbara Kay Hughey December 21, 1936 in Corvallis, OR, to Bob and Carmen Hughey. She had one younger sister, Patricia (Pat) Welter. Barbara Roberts graduated from Sheridan High School, where she served on the cheerleading squad and as student body secretary, in 1955.  During her senior year, she married her high school sweetheart, Neal Sanders. Following high school, she moved with her husband to Texas, where he was stationed by the Navy. There she gave birth to her two sons, Mike and Mark, before the family moved back to Oregon. She and Sanders divorced in 1972.

The challenges Roberts faced in finding adequate education for her autistic son, Mike, encouraged her to found the Portland chapter of the National Society for Autistic Children, and then to enter to enter politics as a lobbyist in 1969. While lobbying for Senate Bill 699, which passed in 1971, she met Frank Roberts, a state senator. They later married, in 1974. She first sought elected office at the local level, and served on the Parkrose School Board (1973-1983) as well as on the board of Mt. Hood Community College (1978-1981). Roberts served as a State Representative for District 17 from 1981-1985, and as majority leader  (the first woman to hold that position in Oregon) during her second term.

While Secretary of State (1985-1990) she was a strong advocate for a new State Archives building, increased handicapped accessibility to voting precincts, and expanded auditing duties for the Secretary of State office, among other issues. During that period, she was also appointed by Governor Neil Goldschmidt to chair the Governor’s Task Force on Workers’ Compensation Reform.

In 1990, she won the gubernatorial election with a plurality of the vote, defeating Republican candidate David Frohnmayer. As governor (1991-1995) she faced a variety of challenges, including the passage of Measure 5, a tax cut measure that resulted in severely reduced state budgets, and the clash between environmental and economic concerns embodied in the spotted owl issue. Her husband’s terminal illness provided an added complication, and his 1993 death was one of the reasons she cited when declaring her withdrawal from the 1994 gubernatorial race.

While governor, Roberts worked closely with the Clinton administration, particularly in establishing the Oregon Health Plan and a joint state-federal effort, the Oregon Option. To educate voters about her tax plan, created in the hopes of making up for some of the shortfall created by Measure 5, Roberts pioneered the Conversation with Oregon, an enterprise utilizing the state’s Ed-Net system, to communicate via an interactive video link with voters across the state. Despite this effort and her strong lobbying efforts on behalf of the plan, voters did not pass the plan. She also used the Ed-Net system in her teen pregnancy prevention efforts. Among the many other issues that she has advocated for during and after her time in office are environmental issues, early childhood education, gay rights, pro-choice measures, public transit, and the right to death with dignity.

After leaving office, Governor Roberts was named director of the Harvard University Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government (a program that she herself attended while Secretary of State) and a senior fellow to the Women and Public Policy Program.  In 1998, she returned to Portland and accepted a position at Portland State University's Hatfield School of Government's Executive Leadership Institute as Associate Director of Leadership Development; while there, she was involved in the establishment of the Legacy Program.  In 2011, Roberts was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Portland Metro Council. During her post-gubernatorial period, Roberts also embarked on two major writing projects: 2002’s Death Without Denial, Grief Without Apology: A Guide for Facing Death and Loss, which offered both guidance to others and an account of her own experiences with grieving for loved ones, and her 2011 autobiography, Up the Capitol Steps.

Access Restrictions: Collection is open to research.
Subject Index
Autism--Government policy
Cambridge (Mass.)
Clinton, William J. (William Jefferson), 1946-
Compassion & Choices (Organization)
Democratic Party (Or.)
Ferraro, Geraldine
Harvard University. John F. Kennedy School of Government
Oregon. Governor (1991-1995 : Roberts)
Oregon. Land Board, State
Oregon. Legislative Assembly. House of Representatives.
Oregon. Secretary of State (1985-1991 : Roberts)
Oregon Progress Board
Portland State University
Portland State University. Hatfield School of Government
Roberts, Barbara, 1936-
Roberts, Frank L., 1915-1993
Spotted owl--Oregon.
Women Politicians--Oregon
Languages of Materials
English [eng]
Japanese [jpn]
Technical Access Notes: Obsolete audiovisual materials that have not yet been digitized may not currently be viewable.
Acquisition Notes: Barbara Roberts
Related Materials: Official government records from the Governor Barbara Roberts Administration are held at the Oregon State Archives. Materials from her terms as Secretary of State are included in its holdings for the Office of the Secretary of State. For more information please see
Related Publications: Susan Madsen's 2005-2008 correspondence and interviews with Barbara Roberts (Regarding Interviews, Box 8) later resulted in a chapter in her book, Developing Leadership: Learning from the Experiences of Women Governors (2009).