Remembering Betty Roberts, an Oregon Icon Who Flew with Her Own Wings
For decades, Betty Roberts broke with social and political norms, leading the way for Oregon women in politics.
As a state legislator in the 1960s and ‘70s, she championed women’s equality, civil rights and environmental protections.
Following her political career, she served as the first woman on both the Oregon Supreme Court and the Oregon Court of Appeals.
Born Betty Lucille Cantrell on Feb. 5, 1923, in Kansas, she grew up in poverty during the Great Depression. She said President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies to assist the poor influenced her political decisions.
She wrote in “With Grit and By Grace,” her 2008 memoir, “I began to understand that government is good when it helps its neediest citizens.”
In 1942, she married U.S. Army soldier Bill Rice. At the end of World War II, they moved to his home state of Oregon, where they lived in a series of small towns, including Klamath Falls, Lakeview and La Grande.
Betty was a 32-year-old housewife with four children when she decided to go back to college, despite her husband’s objections and the conventions of 1950s society.
At the time, most Oregon women struggled to independently rent apartments, buy homes, obtain loans or even keep their surname when they married.