Portland State announced on Nov. 2 that Gov. Barbara Roberts had donated her collection of personal papers to the PSU Library. The collection, spanning some 30 years of service to the citizens of Oregon, will be invaluable to scholars, particularly those interested in Oregon politics from 1970-1990. Roberts’ groundbreaking role as one of the first female governors in the United States also provides an important window into Oregon’s presence in the women’s movement.
“We’re thrilled to receive this valuable piece of history from Gov. Roberts,” said Helen H. Spalding, university librarian. “It’s very important that we collect and preserve and provide access to the papers of our elected officials.”
The donation will be a major addition to the PSU archives and collections.
“The papers include all of her speeches back to the beginning of the ’80s,” said Chuck Johnson, Millar Library Development director. “They also include public campaign news clippings, photographs and a large amount of personal correspondence.”
Johnson added that while her official records are on file in the Oregon State Archives, PSU will receive her “personal, day-to-day materials.”
Roberts’ career encompassed a wide variety of public service, including work for the Multnomah County Commission, the Parkrose and Mt. Hood Community College School Boards and the Oregon Legislature.
“The 1970s through the 1990s was an important time in Oregon’s political history,” Spalding said. “Roberts played an important role during that time, and her personal papers are full of details about her unique approach, thoughts and perspectives. They help give us a sense of the thinking that goes into public policy, and how it affects citizens.”
Elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1980, Roberts became Oregon’s first woman House Majority Leader during her second term. She was elected secretary of state in 1984, winning a second term in 1988.
In 1991 she was chosen to be Oregon’s first woman governor. At the time she was one of the first 10 women governors in the United States.
After having an autistic son, Roberts also became a tireless advocate for children with disabilities.
Roberts completed her term as governor in 1995. Between 1995 and 1998, she was director of Executive Programs for State and Local Government Leaders at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. In 1998 she returned to the Northwest to join the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government’s Executive Leadership Institute at PSU, serving as associate director of Leadership Development.
Roberts’ husband, Frank, also has strong connections to PSU. Frank Roberts was one of Portland State’s original professors, serving from its beginning as the Vanport Extension Center in 1946 until he retired in 1982.
In dual roles as administrator and professor, Frank Roberts helped transform the school into the modern urban university we know today. He also served in the Oregon Legislature for more than two decades.
Roberts died of cancer in 1993.
Public officials often donate their papers to institutions with which they have a personal connection. Gov. Mark Hatfield’s papers are in the care of Salem’s Willamette University, close to the governmental core of the state he represented for many years.
Gov. Tom McCall’s papers reside in the Oregon Historical Society archives in Portland. Western Oregon University is host to Gov. Bob Straub’s personal papers, recognizing his many years spent living near Monmouth.
Gov. Robert’s donation to PSU reflects the school’s meaning to both her and her late husband
According to Spalding, fund raising will be required in order to hire dedicated archivists to sort through, catalog, organize and maintain the Roberts collection.
Once the contents are processed, individual components will be available through Vikat.
“It would be ideal to digitize as much of the material as possible,” Spalding said. “That preserves the materials and provides enhanced searchability. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time to do this, and creates additional expense.”
A fund-raising effort is planned to support dedicated staff for the Roberts papers. Although there is currently no timeline for availability of the collection, Spalding suggests that some of the major reports may be available for public viewing in about a year.
The papers will be housed in the special collections section of the Millar Library.
The PSU Millar Library has over 1.3 million volumes and subscribes to more than 8,000 journals and 6,000 electronic journals. The library is the regional depository for U.S. Government Information.