“A PIONEER INCIDENT” – December 20, 1902

Scott Duniway addressed the fourth annual meeting of the Oregon Historical Society on this Saturday at City Hall. The topic of discussion was the Constitutional Convention of 1857, and speaker after distinguished speaker arose to eulogize the framers as “men in whose veins flowed firm purpose, highmindedness and enduring sagacity.”1 Their message, sometimes implicit and often explicit, was that the Constitution could not be improved upon and ought not be tampered with. Into this torrent of sentiment steps Scott Duniway to note the imperfections in this supposedly sacrosanct document and thereby to swim firmly against the tide. Following speeches that have recounted the deeds of pioneer lawmakers, she seeks to alter the record by reminding her audience of the contributions of pioneer women. She praises the pioneers of both sexes who “raise the standard of Liberty for all the people to higher planes” but protests the presence of the words “white” and “males” in the state Constitution authored by those pioneer lawmakers; she celebrates the natural splendor of the region as the inspiration for liberty but urges the use of initiative and referendum to achieve equal suffrage.2

More than most, this address reveals the tension between epideictic and deliberative strategies. To wit: If her praise is merited, deliberation should not be necessary. Like those who preceded her, Scott Duniway praises pioneer lawmakers, even asserting that most favored equal suffrage. But then, unlike them, she must explain those offending words in the document that these lawmakers authored. She praises the land and the beliefs it inspires but then must account for the absence of liberty. Scott Duniway’s tactic for mediating this tension is typical: She invokes the theme of evolutionary progress. Thus, she can say, she is “blaming nobody” for their “failure … to remember their wives and mothers”; it was not yet woman’s hour.

But this tactic is not entirely satisfactory, for at least two reasons. First, with the passage of time and a succession of failed campaigns, the prediction of progress becomes increasingly untenable. Second, unqualified praise is in fact very much qualified by an undercurrent of alienation (if this is not too strong a word), best seen in Scott Duniway’s choice of the second person when referring to the law: It is “your” Constitution, “gentlemen,” not “ours.”

The text of this speech was reconstructed after the fact in a letter from Scott Duniway to Annice F. Jeffreys Myers, then Vice President at Large of O.S.E.S.A.,3 and begins:

My Dear Doctor:
I do not know that I can recall my impromptu ‘talk’ of yesterday, before the fourth annual meeting of the Oregon Historical Society, so as to give it exactly verbatim, but the following ‘copy’ is substantially correct; and I have no doubt that the Oregon Press will accede to your request that my presentation of the subject may follow the main address of the afternoon wherever that is published, as an act of courtesy, as well as of justice to the mothers of men.4 Cordially, Yours for Liberty,
Abigail Scott Duniway
The remarks, quoted from memory follow:

Mr. President: I am almost as much astonished at finding myself upon my feet, addressing this Assembly as I would have been if struck by lightning.5

I remember once, many years ago (I will not say how many, but it was when I was engrossed in the labor of love that raised my sons to manhood), that I was invited to attend an Odd Fellows’ installation, a function newer and stranger to me then than the inauguration of a National President would be now.6 The women in attendance on that occasion were ‘side degree members’, known to this day as ‘Rebekahs’; that is, they had been permitted to prepare a beautiful supper in an adjoining room for the men who were going through their ceremonies in an inner temple.7 But we were graciously permitted to attend the public installation. And when the Noble Grand came forward to address the audience, robed in a prettily embroidered silk apron, and other ornaments to match, which became him as well as if he had been a woman, there was nobody to present him; and he said, addressing himself with a Chesterfieldian bow, his hand upon his heart, ‘Noble Grand, I have the honor to introduce myself’! [‘]I trust this audience to make the necessary application, here and now.

In listening to the masterly address of this afternoon, and the interesting discussion which followed, I was glad to echo every sentiment therein expressed; and I am proud to add thereto my own humble admiration of the strenuous worth, the genuine ability, the deep integrity, the lofty patriotism of the men who framed not only the State Constitution but the men who formed the Provisional Government which preceded it.

The men and women who first take up their line of march across untracked continents, who settle upon the outposts of civilization and raise the standard of Liberty for all the people to higher planes, are the very best and most enterprising citizens of any land.

The instinct of enlightened government is the instinct of self preservation. It is inherent in every individual and cannot rightfully be denied to anybody.

While I am proud to echo every sentiment that has been uttered in praise of the men who formed the State Government of Oregon, I must, as we are making History, voice my protest, in the name of the pioneer women of Oregon, against two words, “white” and “males” that occur in the State Constitution in the article on Privileges and Elections. These words are not used in this way in the Constitution of the United States; and they ought to be null and void in the Constitution of every state. You have already outgrown the use of the word “negro” in your Constitution, and before many years you will also eliminate the word “male”. When this is done your work will be perfect, and you will have proclaimed your manly belief in the immortal words of the preamble of the Constitution of the United States, and of the Declaration of Independence which I need not repeat.

You know, gentlemen, that justice and liberty do not inhere in one sex only; that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inherent in every individual. As I listened to the roll-call of honored names affixed to the Constitution of Oregon I recalled the faces and voices of many, alas! how many! now gone to their reward, who in the early days of my untaught public stewardship assisted my trembling steps, as heeding the cry of woman in the wilderness, I sought the aid of the Legislative Assemblies in the interest of all the people; and I need not tell you that I recall with pride the important fact that a large majority of the men who framed the Constitution of Oregon were, and those of the Old Guard who remain are now, almost without exception, my aiders and abettors in the equal suffrage field, and all are good friends, staunch and true, who will rejoice in the final victory–when it comes–whether they aid in the struggle or not. Nobody was to blame, and we are blaming nobody for the failure of the framers of the Constitution to remember their wives and mothers. Everything in its order is the law of evolution, and woman’s hour had not yet come. But it is coming, men and brethren, and is almost here.

The splendid vote you gave us two years ago attested this, when it came so near a majority that leading men at once discovered the necessity of so amending the Constitution that our way to liberty might be made straight.8 That way [the Initiative and Referendum] is before us now.

Last winter, as I lay a victim of a lingering illness, at the point of death, I said to those around me, ‘No; I am not ready to die; my work is not yet finished. I shall live till it is done.’ The broad-brained, big-hearted men of the breezy West have expanded their ideas of liberty and justice under the shadow of our snow-capped mountains. They have quaffed inspiration from our mighty rivers when following them from their frozen sources to the ocean breakers that thunder on the Pacific beach. The march of empire has spread yet further Westward till our flag floats over the Hawaiian Islands; and the ensign of liberty is now unfurled in Oriental seas.9 The men whose minds expand under object lessons like these are the men who scorn to claim or accept a right for themselves which they would deny to their mothers. The fiat has gone forth: No man, or set of men, can measure metes and bounds for men, much less for women. The world moves and woman is moving with it, Mr. President; thank you, as I take my seat.

Years later, Scott Duniway wrote a “Supplement to Foregoing” at the end of her letter:

Long afterwards, in the year 1905, an elegant luncheon was given, in the Hotel Portland by Mrs. May Arkwright Hutton10 of Spokane, to our distinguished visitors from the National American Equal Suffrage Association and the local leaders of the movement in Oregon.11 The time tables were so completely turned on this occasion that men, by many scores, sat in silence along the walls of the hotel corridors, watching the women on their way to the feast, to which not one of them had been invited. Men (of color) were our waiters at the tables and women were the only post prandial speakers. When it came my turn to respond to a toast, my subject was ‘Our Men–God bless them,’ and I related the foregoing incident amid much merriment, concluding my remarks with words of combined condolence and encouragement for the benefit of the men in the corridors, whom I thought ought always to be invited on equal terms with us to our feast, as an introduction to the reign of peace on earth and good will to men and women which it was our business to inaugurate. Mrs. McRae, our reporter for the occasion, did me the honor to tell the readers of the Oregonian the next morning that my little speech was ‘inimitable.’


    1. These speakers included: John R. McBride (1832-1904), state legislator, Congressman, and chief justice of Idaho territory; Reuben Patrick Boise (1819-1907), justice of territorial supreme court, chief justice of state Supreme Court, and circuit judge of 3rd district; George Henry Williams (1823-1910), chief justice of territorial supreme court, U.S. Senator, U.S. Attorney General, and, at the time, mayor of Portland; Theodore Thurston Geer (1851-1924), state legislator, speaker of Oregon House, and, at the time, Governor (the first native Oregonian elected to this office); and W. D. Fenton, the newly elected vice-president of the society who chaired the proceedings. To an extent, framer after framer eulogized himself: McBride, Boise, and Williams were one-third of the surviving delegates of the constitutional convention (Sunday Oregonian 21 Dec. 1902; Corning 31, 97-98, 159, 269). []
    2. Primarily through the efforts of Seth Lewelling and William S. U’Ren, a constitutional amendment adopting this Populist measure first passed the Oregon legislature in 1899. Following the heartbreaking defeat of 1900, some suffragists took aim at the onerous requirements for amending the state constitution and embraced the innovation. It passed the legislature again in 1901 and, in June, 1902, voters gave the amendment a seventy-eight percent majority. The measure was so popular that every political party save the Prohibitionists endorsed it, as did the Oregonian. Oregon thereby became the third state to adopt this experiment in direct democracy.

      The following year, the amendment would be tested in court. The challenge “arose under a minor provision of the amendment providing that no statute could go into effect until ninety days after its passage, presumably in order to allow any dissatisfied voters enough time to organize a referendum campaign in opposition. In January 1903, the legislature passed a statute authorizing the City of Portland to assess a tax. Three weeks later, the city exercised that authority. One of the assessees, in Kadderly v. Portland [44 Ore. 118, 74 P. 710], challenged the assessment, arguing that it was made before the ninety-day waiting period had run. The city justified this allegedly ‘premature’ action on two grounds: first, that the waiting period was not meant to apply in cases of genuine emergency legislation, of which the assessment was an example; and alternatively, even if the waiting period requirement applied, that it was invalid because the entire initiative and referendum amendment was unconstitutional.

      Thus, the first challenge to the new amendment did not involve an initiated or referred measure, and it appeared in a posture that would have permitted the court to avoid the constitutional issue by simply accepting the city’s first argument. In fact, the court [in December, 1903] did conclude that the assessment was an emergency and therefore the ninety-day waiting period did not apply. Nonetheless, the court unnecessarily proceeded to reject the city’s second argument, announcing (after argument by such distinguished amici as U’Ren, George Williams, and Senator John Mitchell) a sweeping constitutional validation of the initiative and referendum amendment.”

      Abigail’s son, Ralph, an attorney, was a central character in this legal drama. A highly misleading account in History of Woman Suffrage depicts him as responsible for securing a reversal of the lower court’s ruling and thereby securing a great victory for his mother’s cause. In truth, Ralph, who was counsel for the appellants (the property owners), argued strenuously against the amendment before the court. He was quoted as saying: “If the initiative and referendum is in force, I predict that men will be shot in the streets of Portland, that a state of anarchy will exist in Oregon, and that it will be necessary to call out the Federal troops.” Whether he was expressing his own opinion or simply prosecuting his clients’ interests is not known. In either case, giving him credit for losing his case is passing strange.

      In 1905, U’Ren, the “father of the I. And R.,” addressed the N.A.W.S.A. convention, meeting–fittingly–in Portland, prompting the National’s endorsement. I. and R. would not affect a suffrage campaign in Oregon until 1906 (City Club of Portland, “The Initiative and Referendum in Oregon” 6; History of Woman Suffrage 5: 136, 6: 539; Morison 3: 135; Schuman 956; Abrams 1039; Moynihan, Rebel 210). []

    3. I discovered it misfiled in folder “Duniway, Abigail S. Papers. Suffrage Correspondence 1905-1906″ in the Abigail Scott Duniway Papers. []
    4. Her confidence was misplaced. The Proceedings of the Oregon Historical Society (Salem: Whitney, 1902) omits her. The Oregonian’s coverage the following day, which quotes the speeches by McBride, Williams, Boise, and Geer at some length, notes only (and in its closing sentence, as if an afterthought) that Abigail “spoke for a woman suffrage amendment to the constitution.” The Oregon Daily Journal, also of December 21, contains only a tiny back page story reporting that a new building for the society was discussed. []
    5. Scott Duniway endured repeated bouts of “la grippe” (influenza) and “bilious” attacks throughout her life, which worsened as the years passed and which she attributed to overwork and other emotional and physical stresses (Moynihan, Rebel 205). []
    6. The Odd Fellows was a voluntary association of common laborers and assorted “odd” tradesmen, formed for the purposes of social unity, fellowship, and mutual aid. Originating in eighteenth-century England, the order as it still is known today crossed the Atlantic in 1819, with the establishment of Washington Lodge No. 1 at Baltimore, Maryland. The order spread to California in 1849, and thence to Oregon and Washington (Don R. Smith and Wayne Roberts, “The Three Link Fraternity”; Ridgeley; for some details on Oregon, H. Holmes). []
    7. The Odd Fellows became the first fraternal organization to include women with the creation of the Rebekah Degree in 1851. The degree itself was written by Schuyler Colfax, who would be Ulysses S. Grant’s Vice-President, 1869-73, and was implicated in the Crédit Mobilier scandal of 1872 (“About Us“; “Rebekahs“). []
    8. The vote in 1900 was extremely close: 28,402 No to 26,265 Yes (Moynihan, Rebel 208). []
    9. The resolution to annex Hawaii was signed in 1898; it became a territory in 1900. “Oriental seas” undoubtedly refers to the Philippines, which came under U.S. control as a result of the treaty ending the Spanish-American war in 1898. A woman of her time, Scott Duniway approved of these events. In 1905, she would publish From the West to the West (a new version of her first book, Captain Gray’s Company), “extolling manifest destiny and the civilization of Oregon” (Moynihan, Rebel 210). []
    10. Mary (May) Arkwright Hutton (1860-1915): illegitimate child, born in Ohio coal country; raised by father and blind grandfather; awakened to woman’s rights by discussion between father and overnight guest, young lawyer William McKinley; at 18, married Frank Day; at 22, married coal miner Gilbert Munn; came to Coeur d’Alene district of Idaho as mining camp and boardinghouse cook, 1883; married third husband, Levi W. “Al” Hutton, railroad engineer, November 17, 1887; fierce defender of organized labor during disastrous “Rocky Mountain Revolution” in mines, 1892-99; wrote, published and promoted “the true story” of labor troubles, The Coeur d’Alenes: A Tale of the Modern Inquisition in Idaho, 1900; met and campaigned in Idaho with Scott Duniway, 1895; Hercules silver and lead mine, in which she bought 1/34 interest in 1897 and which began producing in 1901, made her fabulously wealthy within ten years; Democratic nominee for state legislature, 1904; joined N.A.W.S.A. and attended first national convention, in Portland, 1905; moved to Spokane, 1906, joining Susan B. Anthony and Scott Duniway in campaigning for suffrage in Washington, first working and then clashing with Emma Smith DeVoe over tactics, eventually splitting Washington Equal Suffrage Association during N.A.W.S.A. convention in Seattle, 1909; ardent Democrat and William Jennings Bryan supporter; first woman delegate to Democratic National Convention, 1912; noted philanthropist, especially Florence Crittenton home for unwed mothers, Spokane Charities Commission, and Hutton Settlement for orphaned and unwanted children. A large, uncouth woman “with a questionable past and a flamboyant nature who was anathema to many other suffragists,” she nonetheless was Scott Duniway’s “close friend and disciple.” Scott Duniway rode in the Thomas Flyer that Arkwright Hutton decorated and entered in the Portland Rose Festival, 1897, and Arkwright Hutton was an invited guest on the platform for Scott Duniway’s seventy-eighth birthday celebration, 1912 (Laura Arksey, “Hutton, May Arkwright“; Montgomery, esp. 48-49, 104-05; Roberta Cheney, “From Rags to Riches,” in Western Writers of America 220-39; Moynihan, Rebel 194-95; P. Horner; Mulford 72-79). []
    11. During the N.A.W.S.A. convention, meeting June 28-July 5 in Portland (History of Woman Suffrage 5: 117-50, esp. 135). The Morning Oregonian indeed devoted one paragraph to this event of the previous evening, calling the thirty assembled “the most distinguished body of women which has ever gathered at one table in the history of Portland” (6 July 1905). However, it does not mention Abigail’s “little speech.” []

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