Eight Amazing Oregon Women

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Eight amazing Oregon women and their accomplishments

written by Lee Lewis Husk | photos by Eric Rose

From Abigail Scott Duniway, who published a newspaper devoted to women’s rights in 1871, to Barbara Roberts, the first woman elected governor of Oregon in 1991, women have made history and shaped Oregon’s future. The people featured in this story are a tiny sample of those who came before or who are here now, influencing our state and world with considerable strength, intelligence, compassion and vision.

Readers will be familiar with some, such as former Gov. Roberts. Others are largely unknown, such as Kathryn Jones Harrison, an American Indian who overcame many obstacles to restore tribal lands terminated in the 1950s during the Eisenhower administration. Some were hard to catch up with—the ones who travel on the world stage, such as marine biologist and ecologist Jane Lubchenco and chemist Geri Richmond. Two are pioneers and founders in Oregon’s growing wine and craft beer industries. Linda Hornbuckle, “soul diva” of the Northwest, died a few months before we started the story.

Read on and learn about Oregonians who have pushed beyond discrimination, hardship and physical limits to earn a place in the state’s history.

Amazing Oregon Woman #1: Music Legend Linda Hornbuckle

Linda Hornbuckle’s dad put a microphone in her hand and asked the 6-year-old to sing. When he listened to the recording on his new reel-to-reel player, they both knew she could sing—really sing. On October 4, 2014, that voice, at 59, was silenced by cancer, but the woman who was known as the “No. 1 Soul Sister” of the Northwest left behind a legacy of gospel, blues, soul and funk that touched audiences worldwide.

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Her husband and manager, Mark Young, reflected on highlights of Hornbuckle’s life, including a tour in the early 1980s as a backup singer with Quarterflash after its hit, “Harden My Heart” and more than twenty years with the Trail Band, an off-shoot of Quarterflash that performs holiday concerts around Oregon and Southwest Washington. This past year’s tour ended with a tribute to Hornbuckle at Portland’s Aladdin Theater.

In the 1990s, Hornbuckle toured Europe with Portland-born funk-rocker Dan Reed and was a lead vocalist for the Motown revue band, Body and Soul, and the No DeLay Band. She released her own CD, Clearly, in 2001, performing at music festivals across Canada. At home in Portland, the Linda Hornbuckle Band was a regular at the annual Waterfront Blues Festival, Willamette Park and many nightclubs, including Jimmy Mak’s. She released Sista, a CD of duets with the late pianist Janice Scroggins.

While performing, Hornbuckle held a job as as a health worker with Multnomah County. This took her into high schools, where she counseled teens about healthy relationships and how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. She advocated for smoke-free public places and was one of the first performers to stop playing in clubs that allowed smoking, according to Young.

Hornbuckle loved mentoring young performers, including Liv Warfield who came to Portland State University on a track scholarship, attended many Hornbuckle performances and ended up singing with Prince. Warfield flew from Aruba to perform at the celebration of Hornbuckle’s life at the Crystal Ballroom in October.

The Cascade Blues Association gave her three Muddy Awards for best female vocalist, and in 2010, she was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame for her influence on the Pacific Northwest music scene, an award she took to heart, Young said.

Amazing Oregon Women: Advocacy in Science: Jane Lubchenco & Geraldine Richmond

You won’t see their faces on the cover of People magazine but Jane Lubchenco and Geraldine “Geri” Richmond are A-list celebrities in their world. The two women are professors at Oregon universities, highly credentialed and respected researchers who wield influence at the highest levels of science advocacy and policy.

Richmond, Ph.D., presidential chair and professor of chemistry at the University of Oregon, has published more than 200 papers on the complex interaction of surface water with gases, oils and other substances. “The answers are at the crux of important environmental issues,” she said. She was appointed by President Obama in 2012 to serve on the National Science Board, which advises the administration on science policy and oversees the National Science Foundation, the largest foundation for research in the U.S. (Lubchenco previously served 10 years on this prestigious board.)

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Geraldine Richmond

Lubchenco, 67, holds a Ph.D. in marine ecology from Harvard University and is a distinguished professor of marine biology at Oregon State University. Her research focuses on marine ecology and oceans, climate change, and the interactions between the environment and humans. “Our future is tied to the health of the ocean,” she said.

She was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). From 2009-2013 she led NOAA’s efforts to restore fisheries to sustainability and profitability, facilitate a weather-ready nation, and understand and prepare for climate change—all vitally important to Northwestern states.

These two women were among four American scientists appointed by Obama as U.S. Science Envoys with the Department of State. Starting this year, Richmond, 62, will spend time in Thailand and Lower Mekong countries, and Lubchenco is the first envoy “for the ocean.” Their job? Advise the White House and the scientific community about ways to foster scientific cooperation and economic prosperity with other countries.

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Jane Lubchenco

In February, Richmond assumed the presidency of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific organization, a position that Lubchenco held in 1997.

Richmond is the founder and chair of the Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists, a grassroots group that helps women scientists and engineers around the world succeed in their careers. “It’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done,” she said. And Lubchenco co-founded three organizations to help scientists engage more directly with society, listening and sharing important scientific knowledge on climate and the environment. She says, “I’m focused on finding solutions to big problems—solutions that begin with people and are grounded in good science.”

Amazing Oregon Woman #3: Breaking Political Boundaries: Barbara Roberts

Barbara Roberts’ path to politics was personal. Her autistic son, Mike, had been denied the right to attend public school. “I went to the Oregon Legislature in 1971 as a citizen and won the right to an education for my son and thousands of others,” she said, adding that Oregon’s law was the first of its kind in the United States.

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Born in 1936 to descendants of the Oregon Trail and raised in Sheridan, Roberts won a series of local and statewide offices—the Parkrose school board, the Oregon House of Representatives (first female majority leader), secretary of state and finally governor in 1991—the first woman to hold that office here.

It was a challenging time to be governor. “The night I was elected, Measure 5 [the property tax limitation] passed—the most restrictive tax measure in Oregon history,” she said. She had to make deep cuts to the state budget and slash thousands of state jobs, “not what people think Democrats do,” she said.

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The spotted owl had recently been listed as endangered, a devastating blow to timber communities. “People thought I was a Portland liberal, but I came from a timber community,” she said.

Despite these challenges, Roberts achieved success in areas of affordable housing, welfare-to-workplace programs and Head Start for children. She was a strong supporter of gay rights and women in government. She chose not to run for a second term after her husband and mentor, Frank Roberts, died in 1993 while she was in office. “It was a hard time for me.”

Her proudest accomplishment is an elusive trait among practicing politicians. “After serving for well over twenty-five years, no one ever questioned my ethics or honesty,” she said. “For me, that’s a credential to be proud of.”

Today, at 78, she officiates at numerous public events, mentors other female politicians and has a packed schedule of speeches.

Meanwhile, Roberts is still chasing one educational goal of her own—a college degree. After completing three years at Portland State University in the early 1960s, she plans to finish her bachelor’s degree from Marylhurst University.

Amazing Oregon Woman #4: Wine Growing Pioneer: Susan Sokol Blosser

What does a Stanford University graduate with a master’s degree in teaching from Reed College yet no business or agricultural experience do with her life? She buys a run-down plum orchard in Dayton and plants pinot noir grapes, of course.

Susan Sokol Blosser and then-husband Bill Blosser, both lovers of French Burgundy, staked their future on the fussy pinot noir grape, which had not done well in the United States, believing it would thrive in the Willamette Valley. That was 1970 and now the two are considered pioneers of Oregon’s multi-billion-dollar wine industry. The winery they started has grown to 120 acres, producing pinot noir and other varietals prized by connoisseurs worldwide.

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“We joined forces with other early growers—Erath, Adelsheim, and Ponzi, experimenting and sharing results because none of us knew much,” Sokol Blosser recalled. “This was new ground and different from California and France. When we went out to the marketplace, we had to carry maps because we were always being asked “Where is Oregon again?’”

The Sokol Blosser Winery was an early adopter of sustainable growing practices, believing that conventional farming’s use of chemicals and synthetic fertilizer wasn’t good stewardship of the land. The winery implemented standards to protect salmon from pesticide run-off and, in 2002, built the country’s first LEED-certified winery building. Organic certification came in 2005 and, in 2007 Sunset magazine named it Green Winery of the Year.

Sokol Blosser spent the early years managing the vineyards and took the helm as president in 1991. In 2008, after growing the business and improving profits, she turned control of the vineyards over to her three children.

Now 70, Sokol Blosser is president of the Yamhill Enrichment Society, a nonprofit she founded in 2011. She runs the Bounty of Yamhill County, a weekend event held in August to celebrate local chefs, family farms and wine.

Amazing Oregon Woman #5: Summiting Peaks: Stacy Allison

Stacy Allison and Nepalese climber Pasang Gyalzen gazed out over the world from 29,028 feet, the highest point on Earth. They reflected on their historic climb. “You find your talent and see how far it will take you,” Allison wrote in her 1994 memoir, Beyond the Limits: A Woman’s Triumph on Everest. “You do what makes you feel most alive.”

Raised in Woodburn, Allison started climbing at 21 while enrolled at Oregon State University. Within a few years, she was among America’s elite mountaineers. In 1988, at the age of 29 and with one failed effort to reach Mt. Everest’s summit, she became the first American woman to stand on top of the world.

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In 1993, she used her experience to lead an expedition to K2 on the border of Pakistan and China, the world’s second highest peak and one of the most technically difficult to climb. Three of the seven team members reached the top, but when one of the three fell to his death during the descent, Allison turned the rest of the group back.

She continues to lead climbing trips but mostly in the West and often to raise money for charity. “She’s low key and humble,” said Katherine McCoy of Portland, who has climbed Mount Hood and several other peaks with Allison. “She’s also incredibly competent in extreme situations, making sure everyone is safe. She can guide and teach through white-outs and 2,000-foot exposures that are terrifying. She’s a rock star.”

For the past twenty-five years, Allison, 56, has lived in Portland and worked as a residential building contractor, specializing in historic renovations. She recently bought and upgraded an apartment building for low-income people. “It feels good to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “My tenants can have pride in where they live.”

She also travels widely as a motivational speaker for business groups, focusing on leadership, team building and the importance of failing as part of success. “Our culture professes that it’s okay to make mistakes, but when we do, we often get chewed out,” said Allison, who is working on her third book. “I learned through hard knocks, and drive and taking risks.”

Amazing Oregon Woman #6: Social Justice Leader: Kathryn Jones Harrison

Kathryn Jones Harrison’s parents died of influenza when she was just 10, but they instilled a sense of spirituality and purpose in their young daughter, sustaining her through ninety years of life, many of those as a venerated leader of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

Her journey wasn’t an easy one. As an orphan, Harrison was separated from her siblings and sent into abusive foster care that tried to purge her Indian heritage. In 1938, at 14, she fled to the Chemawa Indian Boarding School in Salem where she was reintegrated with other American Indians. “The school saved my life,” she said.

She married a classmate, and together they had ten children and wandered the West as migrant laborers. “Those were hardship times,” she said. “We stayed in cabins near the fields, carried our own water and slept on straw mattresses.”

When the federal government sold the Grande Ronde tribe’s ancestral lands through the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act in 1956, Harrison and her older children each received $35. “We were glad to get it,” she recalled. “The children bought school clothes at JCPenney, but for all the things we gave up, it wasn’t much.”

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In 1972, she became the first American Indian graduate of Lane Community College nursing school, earning a degree and new dentures. She had resorted to pulling her own teeth, a result of years of poverty and neglect. “I got my dentures, and they were so sparkly, like a Wrigley spearmint gum commercial,” she said and laughed.

In 1977, she helped the Confederated Tribes of Siletz regain federal recognition, testifying before Congress. In the early 1980s, she returned to the tribe of her father, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and helped it regain federal recognition in 1983. The following year, she won election to the Tribal Council, which she served on for twenty-two years, never losing an election and serving as the first female chair, a position she held for six years. During her tenure, she helped establish Spirit Mountain Casino and a charitable foundation that has given millions of dollars to nonprofit agencies in the Pacific Northwest since 1997.

Harrison has received many leadership awards and honorary doctorates from three Oregon universities. She is the subject of the book, Standing Tall: The Lifeway of Kathryn Jones Harrison, by Kristine Olson. Harrison continues to speak out about tribal life and rites, and, at age 90, is still in charge of her own life and beyond, including leaving her kids written instructions for her funeral. “I want to tell them what to sing and do, and I don’t want anyone arguing,” she said.

Amazing Oregon Woman #7: First Lady of Brewing: Tonya Cornett

Since becoming the first and still only woman to win the title of World Beer Cup Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year in 2008, Tonya Cornett has been the subject of local and national news stories, from the Wall Street Journal, to National Public Radio and many more. The 45-year-old was also a main character in the 2011 documentary, For the Love of Beer, filmed and directed by Alison Grayson who followed Cornett around for a year-and-a-half, even camping out on hotel floors, Cornett said.

Brewmaster for Bend Brewing Company from 2002 to 2012, and now head of research and development at 10 Barrel, she’s consistently brought home the medals, including eight from the Great American Beer Festival, the premier competition in the country, and four golds from the World Beer Cup competition. She’s been a guest brewer for the JD Wetherspoon Pub chain in England and recently traveled to Europe with 10 Barrel’s brewmaster, Jimmy Seifrit, to begin collaborations with breweries in the Netherlands, Belgium and England.
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“I have the job every brewer wants,” she said, noting that 10 Barrel, now owned by Belgian conglomerate, AB InBev, lets her run her own course. At the moment, she’s concentrating on high-end sour and aged beers. “Sour beer made with lactobacillus is really bright and citrusy, and beer with brettanomyces that is aged for up to two years in barrels or stainless steel can run from barnyard funky to blue cheese to super-tart pie cherry.”

She and her husband, Mark, recently opened Mountain Jug in Sunriver, which has twelve Central Oregon craft brews on tap, making it easy for residents and tourists to taste the local beer. A native of Indiana, Cornett, 45, chose Central Oregon for the strength of its beer culture. “Bend has gained an international reputation because the breweries are all so good, and the exchange of information is easy,” she said.

Amazing Oregon Woman #8: Artistic Voice: Betty LaDuke

The myth, magic and reality of people and places Betty LaDuke has met and visited flow through her paintbrush into images that tell of war, survival, border crossings, rites of passage and the common humanity among cultures. Her artwork has been exhibited and acquired by museums, airports, universities, and private and public collectors all over the United States and world.

An art professor at Southern Oregon University in Ashland from 1964 to 1996, LaDuke spent summers traveling and sketching life in developing countries, giving voice to ordinary folks. “I had a curiosity of arts in culture,” she said of her many trips to Africa, Asia and Latin America. She spent time with other female artists whose work she collected and brought home. “I was always integrating my travels into the classroom because ethnic diversity was very limited in Ashland,” she said.

The creative process begins with sketches in the field and then resumes at her home studio. The flat faces and bodies of women, children, birds and other animals—common themes in her work—are often encapsulated within organic forms such as trees and leaves, evoking Gauguin, American Indian totems, African folk art and medieval Italian triptych. In recent years, she’s spent mornings in the fields of the Rogue Valley observing vegetable and flower harvests. The result was twenty-six wood panels, each with a different community sponsor. “Celebrating Local Farms and Farmworkers” was installed in 2012 at the Medford airport.

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After retiring from teaching, LaDuke began working with philanthropic groups, such as Heifer International, which fights hunger and poverty through gifts of livestock and agricultural training. She went to places such as Uganda, Myanmar, Ecuador, and Albania with the group and, in 2009, completed a ninety-foot sequence of panels titled “Dreaming Cows,” permanently on display at Heifer’s headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas.

SOU’s Schneider Museum of Art honored her in 2013 with an exhibit, “Celebrating Life” highlighting sixty-five years of drawings, etchings and paintings. She was also the subject of a 2006 Oregon Art Beat piece by Oregon Public Broadcasting. She has written several books, been written about in several more and received an Oregon Governor’s Art Award in 1993.

At 82, LaDuke continues to seek new experiences at home and internationally, traveling in 2013 to India and neighboring Bhutan, which measures prosperity in terms of happiness. She continues to devote her life to tying together “the past, present and a sense of where we’re all going,” she said. “I hope to leave something that people will ponder.”


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  1. says: Annie Ocean

    Thank u for the articles on Oregon Women. How about Shannon Applegate. She lives on the same homestead her ancestors built in 1852. Her book Skookum is barnon to excellence. It describes life as a pioneer, homesteader, as women, and tells of native women's lives as well. It is a fine telling, a "fly on the wall" perspective of personal fortitude, tragedy and patience. She to this day educates Oregonians about our HERitage. Lovingly, Annie Ocean 65 yr old Oregonian.

  2. says: Kay Prihoda

    Thoroughly enjoyable! It is so easy to overlook the significant things that go on around us if you watch only the news. Each of these women is a testimony to creating joy and purpose. I didn't know anything about any of them but Barbara Roberts until I read this article. I'll certainly do some more research now. Thanks.

  3. says: Aileen Kaye

    Thank you for this article!

    I heard about this magazine for the first time today via "Carl in the Morning"on which Carl Wolfson interviewed Kevin Max. I will try to find a hard copy in Salem.

    I particularly enjoyed the segment on Kathryn Jones Harrison who is a friend of mine.