Paper pub. date
October 2011
ISBN 9780870716102 (paperback)
6 x 9 inches, 448 pages. Black & white photographs. Index.

Up the Capitol Steps

A Woman's March to the Governorship

Barbara Roberts

Up the Capitol Steps is a personal and political memoir by Oregon’s first (and only) woman governor, one of only thirty-four women who have served as state chief executives in the history of the United States. Barbara Roberts offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a woman’s life in politics and aims to “demystify” leadership by telling the story of her own unlikely rise to power. 

The mother of an autistic child before the advent of special education, Roberts began her life in public service as an advocate for the rights of children with disabilities. She documents her expanding political career from school board member to legislator to Secretary of State and finally, Governor. In this gripping and poignant memoir, hotly contested elections and tough policy decisions are interspersed with intimate details of personal ups and downs. Throughout, Roberts reveals the warmth and humor that show the “real” person behind the politician.

Only the third published autobiography by an American woman head of state, Up the Capitol Steps is “a very significant contribution to Oregon history, the history of women in politics, and especially the history of women governors,” according to series editor Melody Rose. The book captures a period of our nation’s political history and a view of women’s expanding role in government that brings new understanding to the term, “social revolution.”

Listen to Barbara Roberts on OPB's Think Out Loud.

About the author

Barbara Roberts was Governor of Oregon from 1991-1995 and Oregon Secretary of State from 1985-1991. She was Director of the State and Local Government Executive Programs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and held a senior fellowship at the Harvard Women and Public Policy Program. Before her retirement in 2005, she served for five years as Associate Director of Leadership at Portland State University’s Hatfield School of Government.

Read more about this author

You can read the full text of Governor Roberts' acceptance and farewell speeches—and more—at the  Oregon State Archives collection from her administration.

View the portrait of Governor Barbara Roberts, by artist Aimee Erickson, here.

Recently, Barbara Roberts' papers became part of Special Collections at Portland State University Library, part of a larger collection built in partnership with the Center for Women, Politics, and Policy. The papers are available for use by appointment through the library.

“Each governor’s journey to the state house is unique and each has lessons to be learned by anyone who wants to achieve a goal that is considered a stretch. This is particularly true of women who seek their state’s highest office, especially when they are the first in their state to hold that office. Barbara Robert’s tale is one that should both encourage and inspire.”

—Governor Christine Todd Whitman

“Roberts shows what it takes to make history—the guts to challenge the past and the passion to make a difference. Her book clearly shows why Barbara Roberts is a winner.”

—Ellen Malcolm, Founder of Emily’s List

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