Dorothy McCullough Lee (1901-1981)

Born in Oakland, California in 1901, Dorothy McCullough Lee's childhood gave her an extraordinary opportunity to experience many cultures.   While her father served in the military, she lived in several Asian countries, as well as in Europe.  After attending art school in Paris, she graduated from schools in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., and then earned a law degree at the University of California-Berkley. 


Specializing in admiralty and insurance law, she opened a practice in Portland and soon won a seat in the state House as a Republican in 1929. She was reelected in 1931. In 1933 she successfully ran for a seat in the Senate, a position she held until 1945. Her chief priority was crime fighting and juvenile delinquency, a genuine problem during World War II.   Tens of thousands of newcomers moved to Portland to work in its shipyards and defense industries, and such transition and rootlessness naturally brings a higher crime rate.

    Three years after the war ended, Portland voters elected Lee as mayor:  she won the May 1948 election by 70%.  Like the earlier election of Seattle Mayor Bertha Landes, however, Portland's citizens did not truly want what they said they wanted:  Lee made enemies with her forthright campaigns for better public utilities and transportation, and against mosquitoes, homelessness, corrupt police, slot machines, prostitution, and other forms of vice.   Like the League of Women Voters and other organizations, she championed the city-manager form of governance, even though that would limit her own power.  She also sought to ban racial discrimination in hiring and housing.


Portland voters did not re-elect such a progressive woman, and she returned to law, teaching at several institutions.  She also earned presidential appointments to the federal Subversive Activities Control Board and to the regional parole board for federal prisoners.


The NAACP awarded her a citation for her leadership on racial integration; the Portland Women's Forum named her woman of the year; and four colleges granted her honorary doctorates. She died in 1981.