MAURINE NEUBERGER exemplifies the best of the classic ideal of citizen participation in government. She was the first Democratic woman elected to serve in the U.S. Senate without having served by appointment.
A descendant of Oregon pioneers, Maurine Brown was born in Cloverdale (Tillamook County), Oregon on January 9, 1906, daughter of Dr. Walter Brown, who operated a pharmacy there. She earned a teaching certificate at Oregon Normal School at Monmouth in 1925, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Oregon in 1929. She attended graduate school at UCLA. Beginning in 1932 she taught in public schools in Milton-Freewater, Newberg, and Portland.
Maurine was teaching at Portland’s Lincoln High School when she met the distinguished Portland writer Richard L. Neuberger in 1937. He was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1939 but resigned to go into the U.S. Army in 1942. After World War II, he and Maurine were married. She became his chief journalistic collaborator, helping research articles, doing photography, and publishing articles of her own. In 1948, he was elected to Oregon State Senate.
When she expressed disappointment in local support for her position on legislative reapportionment, she recalls, “Dick pointed out to me that the way to accomplish such reform was to participate in the legislative process, to run for elective office. I had never thought of being a ‘politician’ myself, but that convinced me.”
Maurine was elected to the Oregon House in 1950, and the press soon discovered the undeniable appeal of an intelligent, photogenic, and highly motivated woman who knew how to get things done. She defeated the dairy lobby by showing up at the legislature in a kitchen apron, bowl and spoon in hand, to demonstrate how housewives had to work to add color to white margarine. To this day, butter substitutes are butter-colored in manufacturing, not in private kitchens.
As the nation’s first husband-wife legislative team, the Neubergers joined in substantial political accomplishments. “Maurine is the real campaigner in the family,” he declared. “ I also must thank my wife for being a restraining influence. She has persisted in reminding me that occasionally, ‘the other fellow may be right.’” Both Neubergers were strong Democrats.
“Her election was the best thing that ever happened to me. It put our best foot forward in the Capitol in Salem,” he said. Maurine was re-elected by the largest vote ever cast for an Oregon legislative candidate. She served three terms. Her efforts on behalf of women, children, minorities and senior citizens put her in the forefront as a humanitarian and civil rights legislator.
Richard was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1954. In 1960 he died unexpectedly of cerebral hemorrhage two days before the filing deadline for re-election. Maurine was deluged with entreaties to seek the position. She became a widow on Wednesday, buried her husband on Thursday, and racing an inexorable deadline, filed for election to the U.S. Senate on Friday, March 11. Her voter’s pamphlet statement included an endorsement by Eleanor Roosevelt who said: “Maurine Neuberger is a genuine leader in liberalism and enlightened good works…I have always found Mrs. Neuberger to be fair, informed, and vigorous in her approach to issues. Oregon is fortunate to have such a woman among its citizenry. Her record in the Oregon Legislature still commands national attention and respect.”
Maurine defeated four primary election opponents and, endorsed by former Republican Governor Charles A. Sprague, won the general election over former Republican Gov. Elmo Smith. As U.S. Senator (1961-1966), she continued her dedicated championship of civil rights, education, environmental protection, public health (she wrote the first cigarette warning label at the federal level), and consumer rights. She was the first senator to support legalized abortion. She also sponsored a bill to establish the Oregon Dunes National Seashore.
Although she declined running for a second term, leaving office in 1967, she continued to serve in many appointive positions including chair of President Lyndon Johnson’s Citizens Advisory Council on the Status of Women, and member of the National Board of the American Cancer Society. She taught American government at Boston University, Radcliffe Institute, and Reed College, and volunteered as a reading tutor for elementary school children in her neighborhood.
At Portland State University, Neuberger Hall commemorates Richard, and the Richard L. and Maurine B. Neuberger Endowed Scholarship is awarded to PSU undergraduates with high academic achievement and a commitment to community service.
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