Forging a Path for Others Norma Paulus LLB’62, H’99 keeps a small statue of a lion on a desk in her downtown Portland home. The statue, dated October 1981, was given to her by the northeast Portland Lions Club when she was inducted as their first female member. The next day, Paulus, who was Oregon’s secretary of state at the time, was visited in her office at the Oregon Capitol by the president of the statewide Oregon Lions Club. He had come to ask Paulus to return the Portland club’s gift. He did
College of Law. Paulus said she was inspired to attend law school while working as a legal secretary for the Oregon Supreme Court. She began taking classes on a part-time basis while also working at the Court. During the years that Paulus attended Willamette, only four other women were attending the law school; she had only one class with another woman. Regardless, Paulus said Willamette provided a friendly environment and that she was treated as an equal by her peers.
not think the statue — or membership into the club
Paulus faced significant sexism, however, when she decided to jump headfirst into politics in 1969. She ran for the Oregon House of Representatives in a county-wide election. She said that at the time Marion County was “an eclectic community with Willamette University, a monastery, a nunnery, state workers, farmers, unionized paper workers, Chicanos and old-believer Russians.”
— should have been given to a woman.
ver the course of her career, Paulus faced many similar battles due to her gender and her determination to challenge the status quo. During her tenure in the Oregon House of Representatives, from 1971 to 1977, she met 11 other female legislators who struggled with similar challenges. The 12 female legislators united across party lines to fight long-standing — and sometimes subtle — forms of discrimination against women. “It was more difficult at that time for women to enter the fields of engineering, medicine and athletics,” she recalled, “and Oregon laws discriminated heavily against women.”
“As a tall, blonde and slender female, I knew that I would lack credibility with many of these groups,” said Paulus. “But my law degree did give me credibility with the all-male audiences that I spoke with.” Paulus credits her law degree with teaching her to think critically. “My legal education taught me the art of analytical thinking,” she said. “In all of my government positions, I saw systems and problems that needed to be realigned. Because of my legal education, I had the skills to do it,” Paulus said. The people of Marion County agreed and elected her to office.
The 12 female legislators took action by voting together on a bloc of legislation of important women’s issues. They made great strides for women’s equality throughout the state, reducing discrimination in a wide range of Oregon laws that encompassed crime, property, affirmative action, pensions, tax and numerous other issues. “Oregon was recognized as a leader in the women’s movement because of what we accomplished so quickly,” Paulus said.
Not only did Paulus possess the skills needed to excel in government, but she also had a passion for the work. “I’ve always been drawn to politics,” she said. “I was class president in school and was always organizing things,” she recalled. In high school, she and other politically minded friends worked on Adlai Stevenson’s presidential campaign. Not surprisingly, Paulus’ own career in government did not end with her three terms as a state representative.
Paulus attributes much of her success in government to the legal education she received at Willamette’s