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Norma Paulus
As one of seven children, financial hardship prevented Norma Petersen from attending college. She began her professional life as a secretary for the Harney County district attorney in Burns, Oregon, immediately following high school. At nineteen, she was stricken with polio. After her recovery, she moved to Salem where she became a legal secretary. Two years later she was hired as private secretary to the Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, Earl C. Latourette.

At the urging of Justice Latourette, Norma applied to Willamette Law School. She won admittance in 1956 without any prior college, based on her test scores and the personal recommendation of Justice Latourette. When Norma began law school, she continued working full time. In 1962, she graduated with honors, including winning the school’s moot court competition.

Norma met her husband, William G. Paulus, while at law school. They had been married for forty years when he died in 1999. Their two children are Elizabeth and William Frederick (“Fritz”) Paulus, both graduates of Whitman College.

She was elected to the state legislature in 1970 and served for six years. In this office she had a direct impact on the laws affecting women. She sponsored environmental legislation, civil rights and ethical changes by delving into lobby disclosure and audit functions, and raised the reliability of departmental budgets and records. In 1976 she was elected Secretary of State, the first woman elected to state-wide office in Oregon. As Secretary of State she instituted Vote-By-Mail, the first in the nation. She was reelected to serve the maximum two terms allowed under the Oregon constitution.

Norma was the Republican candidate for governor in 1986, but lost by a small margin. In 1987, she was appointed to the Northwest Power Planning Council, an agency created by Congress to oversee production and distribution of power and the restoration of salmon in the Columbia River and its tributaries. She chaired both sections.

In 1990 she was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction where she led a comprehensive restructuring of Oregon’s public school system, spearheading work to set rigorous academic standards for all students and to increase accountability with state testing standards. In 1996, U.S. Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, named her to the National Assessment Governing Board. A New York Times profile described her work in Oregon as the most cutting-edge school reform in the country.

Norma is a trustee of both Willamette University in Salem and the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science and Technology in Beaverton. She is an overseer of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She also served as an adjunct professor of law at Willamette University. She was chairwoman of Oregon’s Rhodes Scholar selection committee and an Eagleton Fellow at Rutgers University. She holds an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Lewis and Clark College, an honorary Doctor of Letters from Whitman College and an honorary Doctor of Laws from Linfield College. In 1999 she and her husband received honorary degrees in public service from Willamette University.

Norma Paulus is now retired, but continues to promote causes for which she feels concern. She is enthusiastic when she discusses the progress women have made in the work place, at all skill levels, in her generation.

In the summer of 2000, the Statesman Journal reported that, as a chief petitioner, she had submitted to the Secretary of State petition sheets for abolishing capital punishment and providing for public financing for state political campaigns. In December, she was appointed Executive Director of the Oregon Historical Society.

Compiled by Virginia Green

This biographical information was supplied by Norma Paulus.


Norma Paulus
Norma Paulus
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