Although this archive might suggest that Scott Duniway’s public address was devoted almost exclusively to the topics of equal rights, the status of women, and prohibition, such was not the case. During the periodic economic upheavals of the late nineteenth century, for example, she lectured frequently on “Labor Unrest and Political Upheavals” and “Removing the Cause of Strikes.” Another talk in her repertoire was “Woman and the Bible.” She often entertained audiences by reminiscing about “The Life and Times of Col. E. D. Baker1.” Unfortunately, such addresses have vanished almost completely.2 This address (and “The Powers of Thought,” which follows chronologically) is noteworthy, not merely for this reason but also because it provides a window onto Abigail’s religious inclinations, particularly her interest in Spiritualism.

Scott Duniway was raised in the Cumberland Presbyterian church. Her grandfather Roelofson had been an important figure in the spiritual awakening of Presbyterians in the Cumberland region of Kentucky at the turn of the nineteenth century and her uncle, Reverend Neill Johnson, had been among the first of the denomination’s preachers to reach Oregon.3 But Abigail drifted from traditional religiosity, putting her faith–as in all things–in the progressive advance of reason and common sense. Rejecting Calvinist doctrines of damnation and salvation, she later admitted that frontier preaching often had brought her to “the ragged edge of despair,” while camp meetings left her “religiously dead,” so that she became “if not skeptical, decidedly unorthodox.” She predicted that “rationalism in religion” would replace “the dry husks of a decayed theology” and, in 1881, declared that “the day of blind belief in simple or complex dogmas is almost dead.”4 Insofar as she was attracted to any church at all, it was to Unitarianism, whose humanist and universalist leanings comported better with her own.5 She also respected the Reverend T. L. Eliot, of the First Unitarian Church of Portland, who conducted the funeral services for her daughter, Clara, in 1886.6 Nonetheless, she remained spiritually restless.7

This restlessness aroused in her both curiosity and skepticism about things occult and, particularly, about what lay beyond the grave. As this speech reveals, Scott Duniway was intrigued by the possibility of “psychic laws” comparable to other natural laws. The existence of such laws remained to be proven conclusively. However, Abigail remained amenable to reasoned investigation.8 Indeed, her attitude was buttressed by deeply personal experience, for Abigail claimed to have received communications from the deceased Clara.9 Sometimes she was invited to speak at Spiritualist gatherings10, as in the following.

The text is taken from an undated, unattributed clipping,“Death, the Second Birth,” in Scrapbook #1, page 21, of the Abigail Scott Duniway Papers. “Mrs. Abigail Scott Duniway addressed the society of Bible Spiritualists at its hall on Second street last evening, by special invitation. She said in part:”

I have chosen as my theme “The Visit of Nicodemus to Jesus by Night.” I wish first to say that I appear before you as an advocate of no ism. I should feel drawn to these meetings much more strongly than can now be possible, if, instead of adopting the name of Spiritualism, which has come to stand for so much in the public mind which you cannot indorse [sic], you would call yourselves by some such name as “Students of Psychic Law.” However, the name of your society is not a matter for me to decide; and I trust you will pardon the suggestion, whether you consider it or not.

Now to my subject: If you will turn to the third chapter of John, you will find that there was a man named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; and the same came to Jesus by night. Did you ever notice that the average “man of the Pharisees,” of whom Nicodemus is one, is so deeply incrusted within the shell of some organized ism that when his mind begins to expand in the birth throes of desire for more light along psychic or spiritual lines, his first impulse is to seek it in secret, or, as Nicodemus did, “by night?”

The most wonderful part of the wonderful career of Jesus of Nazareth was the simplicity and naturalness of his teachings. He broke the unnatural laws of the Jewish Sabbath without fear of consequences, and wrought what the world in its ignorance called miracles as naturally as he wo[u]ld sit at meat with his followers. He lived the “simple life” to the uttermost, and both by precept and example enlightened the dormant understanding of all who were willing to study the divine revelations of Nature. Nicodemus, being stirred by his teachings, but unable to comprehend them, said unto him: “Rabbi, we know thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these things that thou dost unless God be with him.”

Jesus answered and said unto him: “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Remember, always, that Jesus lived close to the heart of Nature. He recognized the kinship of every sentient thing with the eternal mind, of which we are all a part. But Nicodemus, failing to comprehend the supreme naturalness of this simple fact, said: “How can a man be born when he is old?”

And Jesus answered, calling his attention to a natural law that permeates all physical life, by saying: “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ And Nicodemus said: ‘How can these things be?”

Every physician knows, and every man, woman and child ought to know, that all embryo life, from the atom to the man, exists in water, and is born in water. This is the natural birth. The tiniest seed cannot escape the environment of this natural law, nor can man escape it.

But Nicodemus, though a master in Israel, failed to comprehend the primal, universal law, by which the great Teacher was attempting to lead him up to a knowledge of the ultimate birth of the spirit of man, which would only occur after he became a living soul. And Jesus added, in his effort to make his meaning clearer: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the spirit is spirit.”

Still Nicodemus did not understand, and Jesus, being amazed at his ignorance, said: “Art thou a master in Israel and understandeth not these things?”

Again he said “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but cannot tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth. So is every one that is born of the spirit.”

And yet, we are gravely taught that the new birth is a mysterious, experimental change within these physical bodies, in the face of the spiritual significance of a fundamental, universal fact, so beautifully explained by the great teacher that every child can be made to understand it.

Scientific research is slowly, but surely, leading men to understand the true significance of the new birth. The new, or second birth is simply the birth of the spirit, through the chemical change we call death, which releases the soul from the body and permits it to return to God, who gave it. The change we call death is as necessary to our spiritual unfoldment as is our first, or physical birth from the water in which we existed before we were born.

The secret of happiness hereafter lies wholly in our efforts to do right in the body. We must all sow as we reap. There is no escape from this law. It is as unerring as it is universal. The law of retribution is as universal as the law of evolution.

I know not how many aeons man existed as an animal before the eternal mystery of life, that we call God, breathed into him the breath of the spirit, so he might become a living soul. But let man become convinced without the possibility of a doubt that he must reap as a spirit what he has sown in the flesh, whether it be of good or evil, and the inexorable law of self-preservation will lead him in the ways of righteousness.


  1. Edward Dickinson Baker (1811-1861): statesman, soldier, and orator; born London; emigrated to Philadelphia, 1816; entered law practice, Carrolton, Illinois, 1828; major during Black Hawk War, 1832; Lincoln’s closest friend, and law partner, 1837; Whig; Illinois legislature, 1837-45; U.S. Representative, 1845, 1849-51; distinguished himself in Mexican War, 1846; supervised construction of Panama railroad, 1851; moved to San Francisco, 1852, and gained high reputation as criminal lawyer and orator; by invitation, moved to Oregon, 1859, where, one year later, and despite Democratic opposition, the first state senate elected him Oregon’s first Republican Senator; “the foremost man in debate in that illustrious body”; colonel of a regiment of volunteers, killed in battle of Ball’s Bluff, Virginia, first northern officer to die in Civil War; “Excepting our own Webster, no man of modern times has been so successful as Baker in the forum, in the Senate, and before popular assemblies” (Corning 17; Shuck 63-83). Baker was a Scott family benefactor. In 1846 he extended credit to Tucker Scott, Abigail’s father, to buy the first circular sawmill west of Ohio, and three years later made the latter his exclusive agent for selling Page’s Portable Saw Mills throughout Illinois and Indiana, thereby substantially improving the family’s fortunes (Moynihan, Rebel 24). []
  2. Local newspapers commonly reported her appearances, often giving her subject, and sometimes a title, but rarely more than a brief synopsis. Of course, Abigail often spent more than one day in a town and spoke more than once, giving a woman’s rights talk but also trying to attract an audience with other topics of interest. []
  3. On Cumberland Presbyterianism, see also About Scott Duniway n. 92; Corning 67; “Ballots and Bullets” n. 1; New Northwest 11 June 1875, 12 Jan. 1877, 12 May 1876, qtd. in Moynihan, Rebel 4-5; New Northwest 12 Dec. 1878, 10 Mar. 1881, qtd. in Bandow 66-67.

    The first Cumberland Presbyterian minister in Oregon was the Reverend Josephus Adamson Cornwall, who came by ox-train from Georgia in 1846. Then: “Two strong preachers of this denomination, Joseph Robertson and Neill Johnson, arrived in 1851. Johnson was a native of North Carolina and the record of his ministry is a long and happy one. He named the thriving community of Belpassi on the edge of French Prairie, where he settled and was pastor of the Cumberland Church, which after became the Presbyterian Church of Woodburn.” Like so many groups, the Cumberland Presbytery was rent by the Civil War. Indeed, in 1861, Cornwall, who was pro-slavery, filed charges against Johnson, who–like his in-laws–opposed the South’s “peculiar institution,” alleging that Johnson was “playing politics rather than preaching religion” and had “‘slandered the southern church’.” After a hearing, the presbytery exonerated Johnson, and Cornwall soon removed to California (Clark 658-61).

    Johnson’s wife, Esther (Roelofson), was Abigail’s mother’s sister. The Johnsons migrated to Oregon from Iowa. When the Scotts arrived the following year (1852), they stayed initially with the Johnsons. []

  4. Given that such “dogmas” were important factors in restricting “woman’s sphere,” it is not surprising that Abigail–and others, most famously Elizabeth Cady Stanton–came to question some forms of received Christianity (New Northwest 16 July 1875; Kraditor 13-14, 64-81; Jenny Weatherup, “‘Feminized’ Religion and Women’s Rights“). []
  5. Abigail wrote that Unitarian services “are nearer to my style of thought than others” (Scott Duniway to Clyde Augustus Duniway, 20 Nov. 1892, qtd. in Ward, “Women’s Responses” 96). The anti-Trinitarian strain in Congregationalism developed around 1818-1825 (Latourette 1043). It is “more than a coincidence” that Unitarianism was chiefly of humanist origin, because humanism emphasized “the competence of human reason,” an approach that “could easily exalt the competence of the intellect, stress the human side of Christ, regard Jesus as simply the best of men, emphasize the ethical aspects of the Biblical teachings, and believe that man is able to attain to them with the aid of God but without the basic new birth of which the New Testament speaks” (Latourette 795). Such a religion was congenial to social reformers, like Scott Duniway, who advocated equal suffrage (or temperance, or abolition, or prison reform, etc.) because they believed that “the world could be purposefully altered by specific rational decisions; that rationality was necessary to direct progress; and that progress was possible in a moral, as well as physical sense” (L. Roberts 88-89). Another attractive feature of Unitarianism was its universalism, or anti-denominationalism. In a very favorable report on the People’s Institute of Chicago, founded by Bishop Samuel Fallows of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Scott Duniway heralds “the day of universal church union, in which there is to be no sectarianism whatever” (Pacific Empire 14 Nov. 1895). []
  6. Thomas Lamb Eliot (1841-?): born St. Louis; graduated Washington University, 1862; divinity degree, Harvard; one year as minister, Church of the Messiah, St. Louis; came to Portland, 1867; two terms as Multnomah County school superintendent, 1870s; pastor, First Unitarian until 1891, then pastor emeritus (Who’s Who in Oregon 76-77; Scott, History of the Oregon Country 1: 275-76). On the services for Clara, see New Northwest 28 Jan. 1886. Eliot also would conduct the service for Abigail in 1915. []
  7. In 1893, she wrote to her son, “I have not been to church since I last wrote. Really, there is nothing in it for one who has sounded all its shallow depths in childhood and found nothingnothing–a worse than nothing and vanity. And yet there must be something somewhere. Oh that I might find it” (Scott Duniway to Clyde Augustus Duniway, 31 Jan. 1893, qtd. in Ward, “Women’s Responses” 96). Montague goes so far as to call her a “pronounced agnostic” and suggests that part of the mutual antipathy between her and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union concerned not prohibition but religion (74). []
  8. The New Northwest carried a story exposing the “Spiritualistic tomfoolery” of the seances in Philadelphia conducted by alleged psychic Katie King (29 Jan. 1875). On the other hand, in 1879, counting herself among the “many thinkers . . . who not only desire to believe in a future life, but wish, if possible, that its reality may be proven,” Abigail described a visit to Dr. Slade, of Portland. The doctor placed a pencil between two slates, which produced a spirit message from Abigail’s deceased sister, Margaret Ann Scott Fearnside. Wrote Abigail: “We have seen equally clever and incomprehensible feats by magicians often. We do not know that Dr. Slade is not one of these, nor do we know that he is. But we do know that he could not have been aware that we had once had a Sister Maggie; nor could that writing have been done without the aid of intelligent power” (New Northwest 18 Sept. 1879). A year later, she wrote that the existence of mediums who possess a “psychic force” that enables the dead to communicate with the living “is a fact that any person may demonstrate. The writer testifies to that which she has seen when she makes this declaration” (New Northwest 30 Sept. 1880). []
  9. Nancy Wilson Ross quotes Scott Duniway: “She passed away in January 1886, but I heard from her through private psychic sources within a month, and I have never since been able to think of her as dead” (144). Reputed spirit messages from Clara, circa February, 1886, reside in Box 8, folder 4, of the Abigail Scott Duniway Papers. []
  10. She would lecture at a camp meeting of the Clackamas and Multnomah County spiritualist societies on Sunday, August 2, 1908 (Oregon City Courier 24 July 1908). []

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