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Name: Roberts, Betty Cantrell (1923-2011)

Historical Note:

Betty Roberts was born in Arkansas City, Kansas on February 5, 1923. Her family relocated to Texas, where Roberts was raised, in the 1930s. She attended Texas Wesleyan College in Fort Worth for one year in 1940 before marrying Bill Rice in 1942. They moved to Oregon after World War II where Bill became a banker and Roberts raised their four children.

In 1955, Roberts enrolled in evening classes at Eastern Oregon College in La Grande before the family relocated to Portland. She graduated from Portland State College in 1958 with a Bachelor of Science degree in education.  Roberts earned her Master’s degree in political science in 1962 from the University of Oregon and then her Juris Doctorate from Northwest School of Law in 1966. Between 1958 and 1967 she taught high school in the Portland area before taking a job teaching business law and political science at Mt. Hood Community College from 1967 until 1978. In 1959 she divorced Rice, and in 1960 married Frank Roberts whom she stayed married to until 1965. In 1968 she married fellow Representative, Keith D. Skelton.

In 1964, and again in 1966, she was elected as a Democrat to the Oregon House of Representatives. In 1968, and again in 1972, she was elected to the Oregon Senate and was the only woman serving in the state senate at that time. In 1974 she ran for governor of Oregon, but lost in the Democratic primary. That same year she was chosen to run for Oregon United States Senate - following the death of Democratic nominee Wayne Morse - against Bob Packwood but was ultimately unsuccessful.

In 1977, Roberts was appointed to the Oregon Court of Appeals. The next year she ran a successful election to keep her seat on the appeals court for the full six-year term. She resigned from the appeals court in 1982 when Governor Victor Atiyeh appointed her to the Oregon Supreme Court where she became the first woman on the court. She retired from the Oregon Supreme Court in 1986.

During and since her retirement, Roberts has been awarded numerous awards and honorariums for her work. Since her retirement from the Oregon Supreme Court she has worked as a mediator and arbitrator in alternative dispute resolution. In March 2004, she presided over the first legal same-sex marriage in Oregon.

Note Author: Bryce R. Henry

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