WOW Museum: The Struggle for Women's Suffrage


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1834-   Abigail Scott born, third of twelve children.

1852-   Scott family migrates west on Oregon Trail from Illinois.

1859-   Oregon statehood.

1870-   First suffrage organization formed by Abigail Scott Duniway.

1873-   Oregon Equal Suffrage Association founded by Duniway.

1884-   Oregon voters defeat suffrage referendum.

1900-   Oregon voters defeat second suffrage referendum.

1906-   Oregon voters defeat third suffrage referendum.

1908-   Oregon voters defeat fourth suffrage referendum.

1910-   Oregon voters defeat fifth suffrage referendum.

1911-   Sixth suffrage referendum approved by voters.

Oregon, Tenacious Standard-Bearer: Abigail Scott Duniway

Abigail Duniway

Few western suffrage movements enjoyed the consistency of leadership that Oregon's standard- bearer Abigail Scott Duniway sustained. A genius in journalism, public speaking and grassroots organizing, Duniway provided the glue for a cohesive movement.

As a veteran of the white migration west on the Oregon Trail, Duniway identified with women whose personal experience told of undue hardships, pain and even death, which white women endured to settle and "civilize" the region. As a mother with six children, she represented traditional 'pioneer' families. But Duniway was also an accomplished journalist, and her brainchild The New Northwest was one of the West's earliest and most widely read suffrage newspapers.

Suffrage Poster Her extraordinary rapport with the region's women helped propel each of the Pacific Northwest campaigns to victory: Idaho in 1896, Washington in 1910 and her home state of Oregon in 1912.

Although an early advocate of Prohibition, Duniway became increasingly pragmatic as her priority turned to women's suffrage. She found the temperance movement exceedingly fanatical and judgmental, but she, too, denigrated foreign-born men as ignorant and unworthy of voting rights. Gradually she guided Oregon's movement away from its early temperance affiliations. Duniway also believed that local and regional leadership was key to winning the vote for women in the West. She often chided national suffrage leaders for imposing their ideas and control in a region whose politics they did not understand. The state's women's clubs provided the backbone for all six of the campaigns to approve suffrage by popular vote. Even with all these resources, Duniway found Oregon voters resistant to women's political participation.

Downtown Portland Women's influence in Oregon politics was substantial during the early 20th century, even though they were denied the vote. Thanks to pressure from organized women's clubs and trade unions, the state pioneered legislative protections and rights for women wage workers. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Muller v. Oregon in 1908 upheld Oregon's Women's Ten-Hour Law.

The pioneering history and geography of the Pacific Northwest provided ample symbolic appeal for Duniway's suffrage movement. For example, suffragists organized a "Woman's Day" at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland in 1905. Susan B. Anthony and other national leaders were on hand to dedicate an imposing statue of Sacajawea, the celebrated Shoshone woman who guided the Lewis and Clark's Expedition from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean in 1803. Anthony pleaded with Oregon's men to remember Sacajewea and the brave role women had played in settling the Oregon Territory. The plea fell on deaf ears when male voters soundly rejected women's right to vote for the third time in a 1906 referendum. More predictably, Oregon's resident Native American women were not embraced at all in the suffrage cause.

Abigail Duniway Women pushed the suffrage measure onto the ballot in alternating years until 1912, when Oregon's stubborn male voters finally passed the suffrage measure they had defeated no less than five times since 1884. Duniway blamed her own brother, Harvey Scott, for the multitude of defeats. As the influential editor of The Oregonian, he was the state's leading opponent of suffrage until his death just prior to the final victorious campaign. Abigail Scott Duniway was approaching 80 when she co-signed the suffrage proclamation with Governor Oswald West and took the honor of registering as Oregon's first woman voter. Duniway had spent her entire adult life in the suffrage cause. She died in 1915, never to see the passage of the 19th Amendment.