With her husband Richard Neuberger, Maurine B. Neuberger was part of a “mediagenic power couple” that together reformed the Oregon Democratic Party and emerged onto the national scene.1 After her husband’s death in 1960, Maurine Neuberger succeeded him in the U.S. Senate to become a leading advocate for consumer rights and reform and an outspoken critic of the tobacco industry.
Maurine Brown was born in coastal Cloverdale, Oregon, on January 9, 1907, the daughter of Walter T. Brown, a country doctor, and Ethel Kelty Brown, a schoolteacher. She had one brother, Robert.2 Brown graduated from Bethel High School in Polk County, Oregon, and in 1924 earned a teacher’s certificate at the Oregon College of Education in Monmouth. She taught physical education and modern dance at private and public schools before returning to college. She earned a B.A. in English and physical education in 1929 from the University of Oregon in Eugene. She later took graduate courses at the University of California at Los Angeles. For 12 years Maurine Brown taught public school in Oregon, before returning to the family dairy farm during World War II. While teaching in Portland in 1936 she had met Richard (Dick) L. Neuberger, a young writer who aspired to politics. After Neuberger’s tour in the U.S. Army during World War II, the couple married on December 20, 1945. They had no children.
Maurine Neuberger’s political career began in 1946 when she helped her husband during his campaign as a Democratic candidate to the Oregon senate. Richard Neuberger lost the race but was elected to the state senate in 1948. Inspired by her husband’s victory, Maurine Neuberger won election to the state house of representatives in 1950, making the Neubergers the first husband and wife to serve simultaneously in both chambers of a state legislature.3 When the couple arrived in Salem, Richard Neuberger once told an associate, there were so few Democrats that, “Maurine and I can caucus in bed!”4 Together the Neubergers played an important role in the revival of Oregon’s Democratic Party, which previously had been overshadowed by the Republicans.5 Maurine Neuberger focused on consumer rights and education reform, successfully arguing for the repeal of a state ban on colored oleomargarine (she won her wide notoriety for her demonstration of the process of making the product on the Oregon house floor) and initiating programs for students with special needs. She was wildly popular among Oregon voters, who often came to her husband’s campaign appearance especially to see her. Richard Neuberger once observed that his wife went further in politics than anyone else who regularly spoke their mind. In 1952 she outpolled President Dwight D. Eisenhower and, in 1954, collected more votes than anyone on the state ticket. In 1954, the Neubergers chronicled their rise in state politics in a book, Adventures in Politics: We Go to the Legislature. That same year, Richard Neuberger defeated the Republican incumbent for a U.S. Senate seat. Maurine Neuberger, who had been his chief strategist, joined him as an unpaid aide in Washington in 1955 after completing her final term in the Oregon house. Despite her husband’s ascension into national politics, when asked if she would run for the United States Congress in 1956, Maurine Neuberger replied, “One member of Congress in the family is enough. I find my duties as a wife and official hostess keep me occupied full time.”6
Maurine Neuberger changed her mind about running for national office when, on March 10, 1960, Richard Neuberger, who had suffered from cancer, died of a brain hemorrhage just months before his bid for re–election. “I couldn’t think of anything except going back to Washington and getting Muffet, our cat, closing the office, and moving out of our apartment,” she recalled. “But as I thought more about it, I began to realize I was probably as qualified as any other potential candidate. And, above all, I knew in my heart that Dick would have wanted me to run.”7 Despite the pleas from many Democrats, Oregon Governor Mark O. Hatfield passed over Maurine Neuberger as the appointee for the last nine months of her husband’s term running up to the general election. Wanting to choose someone who would not be seeking the full term the following November, Hatfield selected longtime Oregon state supreme court judge Hall Stoner Lusk.8 Against steep odds, Maurine Neuberger sought and won the Democratic nomination and defeated Republican Elmo Smith, a former governor, for both the unexpired term (November 9 to January 3, 1961) and the full term ending January 3, 1967. In the general election, Neuberger capitalized on her wide name recognition and the vocal support of Oregon Representative Edith Green and her personal friend, former Democratic presidential nominee Adlai E. Stevenson. She polled about 55 percent of the total vote.
Neuberger carried on her husband’s emphasis on reform legislation, though she specialized in consumer issues. She eventually served on three standing committees: Agriculture and Forestry, Banking and Currency, and Commerce. Neuberger also was appointed to the Special Committee on Aging and the Committee on a Parliamentary Conference with Canada. She is best remembered as a reformed pack–a–day smoker who took on the tobacco industry by initiating a nationwide anti–smoking campaign even before the U.S. Surgeon General had publicly linked cigarettes with cancer. Her position enraged the tobacco industry but put momentum behind an eventually successful campaign to get the Federal Trade Commission to regulate tobacco advertising. Neuberger sponsored one of the first bills to require warning labels on cigarette packaging. In 1961, she voted for a two–year extension of federal payments to states which regulated billboards along highways as part of her attempt to fight cigarette sales. “The question is whether the view from the highway will be ‘purple mountain majesties’ or ads for cigarettes,” Neuberger said in a speech on the Senate Floor.9 In 1963, she followed up this legislation by publishing a scathing book on industry practices that popularized her efforts: Smoke Screen: Tobacco and the Public Welfare.
Neuberger’s emphasis on reform led to her eventual transfer to the Commerce Committee, where she authored and cosponsored a range of consumer protection legislation. She pushed for honest packaging and labeling techniques on food products, challenged the meat packing industry for its additives, and criticized bedding manufacturers that sold flammable blankets. “No industry I know of has ever been able to regulate itself to the interest of the consumer public,” she once observed.10 One of her earliest bills, in May 1961, proposed authorizing federal contributions to presidential and congressional candidates and placing spending caps on campaign expenditures.11 In 1962, she cosponsored legislation with New Jersey Senator Clifford Case that required Members of Congress and the executive branch to make periodic public disclosures of their financial interests. Neuberger also worked to protect women’s roles in the workplace by ensuring that the Labor Department received funding to establish the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. In 1964, she introduced an amendment to the Revenue Act, making it easier for taxpayers to deduct expenses for childcare. She also supported reformed immigration laws which ended the national origins quota system, one of the first bills to reduce automobile emissions levels, and a bill to establish the Oregon Dunes National Seashore.
Neuberger worked on behalf of farming and, especially, lumber interests within her state, advocating higher soybean price supports and sponsoring a bill to enable foreign ships to convey U.S. lumber to Puerto Rico. She recalled later, however, that her short term on the Agriculture Committee was largely “four miserable years, fruitless years.”12 Neuberger chafed under the control of the committee by prominent southerners who focused their attention on crops such as tobacco, rice, and peanuts. Forestry concerns were rarely, if ever, addressed.
On November 1, 1965, Neuberger announced that she would not seek re–election to a second full term. Concerned about her health after undergoing abdominal surgery in 1961 to remove a malignant tumor, Neuberger also was somewhat disillusioned with the Senate procedures and her chilly relationship with Oregon’s senior Senator, Wayne Morse. Morse, a fellow Democrat, had become outspoken in his opposition to American intervention in the Vietnam War; Neuberger typically supported President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, once commenting “When it came to foreign policy, I did whatever Bill Fulbright said I should do.”13 Despite her eventual ideological shift concerning Vietnam (from voting for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to publicly criticizing the war), Neuberger still considered Morse “impossible to work with,” citing his indifference to her political agenda and his expectation that she defer to the senior Senator.14 “But the real, actual, hard core reason I didn’t run was raising the money that I knew it was going to take,” Neuberger told an interviewer. “Each year it got more and more expensive, and I just didn’t have the heart to go out and buttonhole people in various organizations from New York to California to Florida and Seattle to build a campaign chest. That was the hardest thing about the whole job, raising the money. I just decided I didn’t want to do it, so I just bided my time.”15
After leaving the Senate, Neuberger chaired the Commission on the Status of Women and was a lecturer on consumer affairs and the status of women and taught American government at Boston University, Radcliffe Institute, and Reed College. She briefly remarried, to the Boston psychiatrist Philip Solomon in 1964, but they were divorced in 1967. She retired to Portland, Oregon, tending to her garden and mentoring scores of young Democratic politicians. When Democratic Representative Ron Wyden visited her in 1994 and they talked about congressional investigations of tobacco advertising she told Wyden, “Stay after them.”16 She lived in Portland until her death there on February 22, 2000.
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
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