Women’s History Month is a time to remember and celebrate the contributions women have made to our shared history, culture, and society, whether those contributions were made in Oregon or beyond our state’s borders.
To shine a spotlight on women who have made — and continue to make — their marks on the world, we’d like to introduce you to these women whose work has shaped our City and our world.
Dorothy McCullough Lee
Dorothy McCullough Lee was a trailblazer in Oregon politics. McCullough Lee served as a Congresswoman in the Oregon House of Representatives from 1929 to 1931. After her service in the House, McCullough Lee and Gladys M. Everett created Oregon’s first all-women law firm which operated out of the Failing Building in downtown Portland.
In 1932, McCullough Lee re-entered the State Legislature, serving as an Oregon State Senator until 1943. McCullough Lee resigned from the Oregon Senate to fill a vacant seat on Portland City Council, where she became the first woman to serve on City Council and the first female to lead Portland’s public utility agencies, including what would become known as the Portland Water Bureau.
Later, McCullough Lee served as Portland Mayor from 1949 to 1953.
According to Historian E. Kimbark MacColl, "Mrs. Lee was probably more qualified by experience and training to serve her office than anyone in Portland's previous history.”
In 1949, Jean Richardson was the first woman to graduate from Oregon State University’s Civil Engineering program. Her first job out of college was working for an engineering firm in Birmingham, Alabama, for one month with no pay —to prove to the company that her work was just as good as the male engineers at the same firm. By the end month, Jean had made her point: the firm hired her for pay.
After working in Alabama and taking time to raise a family, Jean returned to Oregon where she became the first woman to head maintenance engineering for the City of Portland where, towards the end of her career, she designed the Columbia River wastewater treatment plant.
Today, one of Portland’s Aerial Tram cars is named “Jean” to honor Jean Richardson’s legacy and contributions to the City as a trailblazing female engineer.
At 19 years old, if you add up Deepika Kurup’s accomplishment, you’d get quite an impressive list.
In 2012, Kurup received the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Award for her work in developing an inexpensive, solar-powered water cleaning system that can provide clean water to communities around the world, particularly in underprivileged areas.
Then in 2014 she was awarded the U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize award for her project “A Novel Photocatalytic Pervious Composite for Degrading Organics and Inactivating Bacteria in Wastewater.” A year later, Kurup was named one of Forbes’ 2015 30 Under 30 in Energy.
Ensuring that communities have access to clean water is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of life-threatening diseases.
Now a Harvard sophomore studying neurobiology, Kurup says that the motivation for her work is to help people by solving the world’s biggest challenges.