“WOMAN IN OREGON HISTORY” – February 14, 1899

Scott Duniway delivered this address on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of Oregon’s admission to statehood. Commemorative ceremonies were conducted by the state legislature in joint session in the statehouse in Salem. According to a front page report in the next day’s edition of the Morning Oregonian, roughly 1,200 officials, pioneers, prominent citizens, and members of the general public crowded into the legislative chambers, under threatening skies, to listen to the day’s speeches and music.

Scott Duniway, who was one of five speakers on the program, and the only woman, addressed the assembly that afternoon on the invited topic about which she, better than anyone, could speak personally: the contributions of women to Oregon’s development. The official legislative record of the day’s proceedings said of her, revealingly if a little hyperbolically: “Mrs. Abigail Scott Duniway is known throughout the nation as perhaps the ablest champion now living of the claims of woman for equal political rights. Her voice and pen have been always eloquent and powerful in any cause in which they were engaged, and many a foe has keenly regretted having called forth her batteries of reasoning, ridicule and retributive castigation. Mrs. Duniway is a noble woman, of whom Oregon is justly proud.”1

In this ceremonial context, Scott Duniway delivered a fitting epideictic address. In especially eloquent fashion, she develops her oft-repeated theme in praise of the Pacific Northwest as the unique scene of liberty and progress. She praises both the men and the women of this region, whose interests, she argues, always have been mutual and interdependent. Above all, she presents an encomium to the heroism of pioneer women. Once again, this epideictic form serves an underlying deliberative purpose, i.e., to demonstrate that Oregon women, having survived hardships equal to or greater than those endured by men, have earned equal political rights. And once again, Scott Duniway’s own life is proof of this claim; if any woman by her accomplishments has demonstrated that she deserves equal rights, it is Abigail. Thus, “Woman in Oregon History” is an excellent example of her use of the rhetorical form of enactment.

This address was published in the next morning’s Oregonian. It also was reprinted in Path Breaking.2 This text is taken from the official record.3 Differences among the three are cosmetic.

The scientific world is slowly but surely returning to the original order of human affairs in its attempt to reestablish the natural relations between the sexes, in which man and woman are the supplements, the counterparts, but never the opponents of each other. When God saw, in the beginning, “that it was not good for man to be alone,” and created woman as his companion, counsellor and co-worker, the influence of our sex in molding the affairs of state and of nation began; and, no matter how much or how often perverted or hindered, the darkest age has never wholly destroyed it.

The great Author of human destiny understood this fundamental law when He placed fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters in the same home and family, and permitted each sex to associate with the other on a plane of governmental, social and domestic equality.

Often, in these latter4 years, when I have been addressing audiences in the cities of the middle west, and in the east and south, I have been asked why it was that the Pacific Northwest was so far in advance of the older settled portions of the United States in its recognition of the divine principle of equality of rights between the sexes, which originated in the human home. To this query I am always proud to reply that the territorial domain of Oregon was the first great section of our federal union in which woman’s equal right to occupy and possess real estate, in fee simple, and on her own individual account, had ever been recognized or practiced.

All great uprisings of the race, looking to the establishment of a larger liberty for all the people, have first been generated in new countries, where plastic conditions adapt themselves to larger growths. It has ever been man’s province to go before, to find the path in the wilderness and blaze the way for those who are to follow him. It is man’s mission to tunnel the mountains, rivet the bridges, build the highways, erect the habitations, navigate the seas and subdue and cultivate the soil. It has ever been the province of woman to take joint possession with him of the crude homes that he has builded, and add to the rude beginnings of his border life those feminine endeavors through which, as the community increases in numbers, a higher civilization asserts itself; and, as it grows in years and riches, the wilderness is made to blossom as the rose.

The interests of the sexes can never be identically the same; but they are always mutual, always interdependent, and every effort to separate them results, primarily, in discontent and ultimately in failure.

When the true history of woman’s agency in upbuilding the state of Oregon shall have been written, the world will marvel at the sublimity of the inspiration of the man, or men, who gave to the seal of the state its enduring motto, alis volat propriis, or “she flies with her own wings.”

You have heard on this brilliant and important occasion a great many spirited, time-honored and true rehearsals of the valiant deeds of Oregon’s pioneer and public-spirited men. No one reveres or honors more sincerely than I the noble courage, the sturdy manhood, the spirit of enterprise displayed by the men whose names are inseparable from the history of this state’s upbuilding. It required men of brave hearts and firm footsteps to lead the way in the vast enterprises that have culminated, after all the weary years that we are here to commemorate, in this realization of our forty years of statehood. Their deeds of daring, danger and endurance have long been chronicled in song and story. Many of their honored effigies look down upon us today from enduring canvas upon these tinted walls. Their silent images speak to us in rugged, yet kindly outlines of bygone days, when, in their vigorous, ambitious youth, they crossed a barren, almost trackless continent, encountering roaring rivers and rock-ribbed mountains, inhabited only by wild beasts and wilder savages. They speak to us of the prophetic vision with which they discerned this goodly land, long ere their eyes beheld the vernal shore “Where rolls the Oregon.”5

Other speakers have extolled the spirit of adventure characteristic of our Anglo-Saxon stock; a spirit which led men, like these, to hew their way through a perilous, toilsome pilgrimage to this summer land of the sundown seas. But many were the women, daily companions of these men of valor, with lives equal to theirs in rectitude and energy, whose names, as yet, have found no place in song and story, who did their part as bravely as did any man; and their memory remains today enshrined only in the hearts of rustic neighbors, or of their descendants who knew and loved them in their obscurity. Many, and yet, alas, how few, will linger but a few years longer to gaze with dimming vision upon the serried ranks of our annual parades of men who will march together with faltering steps at our regular reunions, until at last there shall be left no more survivors of our early pioneers.

What further shall we say of the women of Oregon, the wives, mothers and sweethearts of those once mighty men who are soon to vanish from human sight? Have they not as6 nobly and bravely borne their part as did the men? Were they not as faithful as they in building up this vigorous young commonwealth of the Pacific Northwest, which, today, includes the added states of Washington, Montana and Idaho, that together with this mother of states originally comprised the whole of Oregon?

That British Columbia obtained a valuable part of our Pacific Northwest territory while your humble speaker was yet a child, is a part of our history of which I cannot stop to speak. All of you older Oregonians can still remember that spirited campaign cry of your youth, whose refrain was “Fifty-four-forty, or fight.” The younger Oregonians can read it in school histories.7

I have before paid tribute to the bravery and endurance of man in subduing the primeval wilderness. It is now my grateful privilege to recognize woman’s part, often more difficult and dangerous because accompanied by the added perils of maternity, and always as important as man’s in building up a state from its crude beginnings into such fruition as we now behold.

We cannot forget the heroism of the women of the Whitman party, who were both victims and survivors of that historic and horrible massacre.8 We delight to honor the valor of those intrepid mothers of the mighty men of today and yesterday, who crossed the untracked continent in ox wagons or on horseback, some of whom have lived to see their native sons and daughters take proper place as living monuments in commemoration of those days that tried women’s9 souls. We cannot forget the faithful bravery of the lone woman in a rough log cabin in the beautiful hills of Southern Oregon who, when her husband lay dead at her feet, from the treacherous aim of a cruel savage, kept the howling despoilers of her home at bay with her trusty rifle till the daylight came and brought her succor from the neighboring hills.

But my time is limited, and I cannot linger over facts already familiar to you all. Let it rather be my province to speak of those mothers in Oregon whose patient endurance of poverty, hardship and toil brought them naught of public and little of private recompense, but whose children rise up and call them blessed, and whose husbands are known in the gates when they sit among the rulers of the land.

I have spoken of the inspiration that gave to us and to posterity the motto of the state seal of Oregon. But there was another inspiration, first voiced by Dr. Linn10, of venerable memory, from whom one of our fairest and richest counties derived its name, and was afterward put into practical shape in congress by Delegate Samuel R. Thurston11. It was an inspiration that placed Oregon as the star of first magnitude in our great galaxy of states, causing her to lead12 in recognizing woman’s inalienable right, as an individual, to the possession and ownership of the soil, irrespective of gift, devise or inheritance, ante-nuptial13 settlement, or any sort of handicap or special privilege whatsoever. I allude to the donation land law.14 A dozen years ago, before my frequent journeyings had taken me from Oregon (as they have often done in later years), I became acquainted with hundreds of Oregonians over the state, some of whom are doubtless present at this hour, many of whom assured me with pride, and all with gratitude, that, but for this beneficent provision for the protection of home, not only their wives and children, but themselves also, would have no homes at all in which to abide.

Woman is the world’s homemaker, and she ought always to be its homekeeper, or, at least, the privileged and honored keeper of a sufficient area of mother earth upon which to build and, if necessary, maintain a home. The woman who would neglect her home and family for the allurements of social frivolity, or the emoluments and honors of public life, is not the woman whose name will occupy a place among the annals of the Oregon pioneers. If Napoleon had said to Madame de Staël15 that the greatest woman was she who had reared the best, wisest and most patriotic children, his famous answer to her famous query would have been divested of all its coarseness.16 Men of renown in all the ages have been the sons of public-spirited, patriotic, home-loving women. “All that I am I owe to my mother,” said our illustrious Washington; and our martyred Lincoln, in speaking of the deeds of heroism that characterized the women who bore the soldiers who bore the arms in our civil war, said: “I go for giving the elective franchise to all who bear the burdens of government, by no means excluding women.”

I would not have you think for a minute that wise women would lessen paternal responsibility in caring for the home. Man ought to be, and generally is, or is supposed to be, the home-provider. But that he has often failed to keep his part of the mutual contract, try how he may, full many a husband can testify who is now living on his wife’s half of the donation land claim, which, happily for all concerned, was recognized by law as hers in the beginning of their married life, and which she has ever since refused to sell or mortgage for any consideration whatever.

I pray you to indulge me while I say that I have never yet met a husband who has failed to make himself an agreeable and respected companion to the wife of his bosom, the mother of his children, if she possessed, in her own right, the home that sheltered them. Nor have I ever known any woman17 of Oregon when so situated to be compelled to sue for a divorce on account of “cruel and inhuman treatment, making life burdensome.”

Right here is a pointer for the relief of our overcrowded divorce courts, Mr. Governor18.

That the donation land law has19 its abuses, we all admit. The tracts of land it donated were too large, and the temptations for girl children to marry prematurely to secure lands were too great to create always the happiest results. But the principle was all right as to equality of ownership, and ought, in modified form, to be revived and continued indefinitely, as it surely will as civilization progresses and enlightenment and liberty increase.

How largely the state of Oregon is indebted to the donation land act for the origin of the spirit of freedom, justice and patriotism that prompted patriotic women to send their sons and grandsons to face death in their heroic endeavor to “avenge the Maine”20; how much the state owes, primarily, to that same patriotism for the promptitude of women in forming the Emergency Corps of the state, or becoming auxiliary to the Red Cross society, for the benefit of our boys in blue, or how far that experience has gone to increase the zeal with which they now come knocking at the gates of state government for admission within its portals to seats of their own among the electors, where there shall be no more taxation without representation to vex the spirits of our lawmakers with its biennial protests, I am sure I cannot tell you. But I know, and so do you, Mr. Governor of Oregon, and these honorable gentlemen, that the spirit of liberty and patriotism, like that of necessity and ambition, is in the air. It cannot be longer restricted by the fiat of sex or suppressed by the fiat of votes. The women of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Idaho, today enjoy their full and free enfranchisement. The governor21, the legislature, the judiciary and the men voters of all those states speak as a unit in praise of their women voters. And shall Oregon, the proud mother of three great states, in the youngest of which the women are voters already–shall she refuse, through her men voters, to ratify the honorable action of the legislative assembly22 which has given them the glorious opportunity to celebrate the dawn of the twentieth century by making it a year of jubilee for the wives and mothers of the pioneers, to whose influence the upbuilding of the state is, by their own confession, so largely due? Forbid it, men and brethren! Forbid it, Almighty God!

And now, as I close, I beg leave to present for your edification the grandest poem that, from the Oregon Woman’s standpoint, has ever been written by Oregon’s greatest poet, Joaquin Miller23.

The Mothers of Men.24

The bravest battle that was ever fought!
Shall I tell you where and when?
On the maps of the world you will find it not–
‘Twas fought by the mothers of men.

Nay, not with cannon or battle shot,
With sword or nobler pen!
Nay, not with eloquent words or thought,
From mouths of wonderful men!

But deep in a walled-up woman’s heart–
Of woman that would not yield,
But bravely25, silently, bore her part–
Lo, there is26 that battlefield!

No marshalling troop, no bivouac song,
No banner to gleam and wave;
But27 oh! these battles they last so long–
From babyhood to the grave.

Yet, faithful still as a bridge of stars,
She fights in her walled-up town–
Fights on and on in the endless wars,
Then, silent, unseen, goes down.

Oh, ye with banners and battle shot,28
And soldiers to shout and praise!
I tell you the kingliest victories fought
Were fought in these silent ways.

Oh, spotless woman in a world of shame;
With splendid and silent scorn,
Go back to God as white as you came–
The kingliest warrior born!


    1. Fortieth 6. []
    2. A. Duniway, Path Breaking 144-53. []
    3. Fortieth 55-60. Dating this speech is a bit confusing. In Path Breaking, Scott Duniway gives the date as January 14. The dateline on the Morning Oregonian’s report, published on February 15, is October 14. The official record  gives the date as February 14, which fits the Oregonian‘s publication schedule, and gives an alternate title: “The Influence of Pioneer Women in the Making of Oregon.” []
    4. Oregonian and PB: “later” []
    5. The title of a poem by Joaquin (Cincinnatus Hiner) Miller (164-65; see infra, n. 23). []
    6. Oregonian deletes “as” []
    7. Boundaries in Old Oregon were hopelessly tangled. Russia claimed south to the Columbia River; the U.S. and Great Britain both claimed south to the 42nd parallel (California) and north to the 60th. The Russian claim was resolved by treaties in 1824 and 1825, at 54% 40′ N (today’s border between Alaska and British Columbia). However, U.S. and British joint ownership persisted until a succession of provocative bills introduced in Congress by Senator Lewis Fields Linn, of Missouri, provided for the “reoccupation” of the country, establishment of military protection, and liberal land grant policies. The Democrats succeeded in electing James K. Polk to the Presidency in 1844 on a platform demanding exclusive U.S. control of the region, epitomized in the campaign slogan, “Fifty-four-forty or fight.” Thus, patriotic motives certainly impelled the Donation Land Law but, Abigail’s claim notwithstanding, this patriotism had far less to do with equality of the sexes than with nineteenth-century geo-politics. On boundary issues, see Corning 33; Scott, History of the Oregon Country 1: 184-93; Clark, History 311-52. []
    8. Dr. Marcus Whitman, a missionary and practicing physician, established a mission among the Cayuse natives at Waiilatpu, along the Walla Walla River, in 1836. Amid increasingly strained relations, a smallpox epidemic decimated the natives in 1847 and led to the massacre, on November 29, of Whitman, his wife, Narcissa Prentiss Whitman, and twelve others. Fifty-three women and children also were held hostage for several weeks. Retaliation for the massacre prompted the Cayuse War, 1847-50. []
    9. Oregonian: “their”; PB: “men’s” []
    10. Lewis Fields Linn (1795-1843): born near Louisville, Kentucky; surgeon in War of 1812; studied medicine and established practice at Sainte Genevieve, Missouri, 1816; member, Missouri state senate, 1827; appointed to French Land Claims Commission, 1832; U.S. Senator as Jacksonian, 1833-37, then Democrat, 1837-43; by succession of bills promoting occupation of Oregon, including donation land law providing liberal land grants to American settlers, helped precipitate crisis in simmering border dispute with Great Britain, which James K. Polk rode to the Presidency in 1844 with the famous slogan, “Fifty-four-forty or fight”; Linn Counties in Missouri and Oregon named for him (Corning 149; “Lewis Fields Linn”; Linn, Lewis Fields“). []
    11. Samuel Royal Thurston (1816-1851): first Oregon delegate to Congress; born Monmouth, Maine; graduated Bowdoin College, 1843; admitted to Maine bar, 1844; went to Iowa, 1845; edited Burlington Gazette, 1845-47; came overland to Oregon, 1847, opening law office in Oregon City; Democrat; elected to Provisional legislature from Washington County, 1848; Territorial delegate to Congress, 1849-51; prime mover behind Oregon Donation Land Law (Corning 244; Scott, History of the Oregon Country 2: 242). []
    12. Oregonian inserts “forever” []
    13. Mistakenly, Oregonian: “and nuptial” []
    14. An 1850 act of Congress disbursing public lands in the Oregon Territory to settlers; provided that U.S. citizens who had resided upon and cultivated the land for four consecutive years were granted 320 acres if single or 640 acres if married, half to be held by the wife; encouraged not only settlement but also many marriages, and greatly enhanced women’s property rights and economic security (Corning 75; History of the Bench 28-30). []
    15. Anne Louise Germaine Necker (1776-1817): born Paris; only child of Jacques Necker, wealthy banker who was thrice French minister of finance, and Susanna Curchod; married the Baron de Staël, Holstein, Swedish ambassador, at 20; children with several lovers; made writing breakthrough with “Letters on the Works and Character of Rousseau,” 1788; brilliant conversationalist with an aptitude for politics, the salon at which she and her mother presided was the most influential in Paris; supporter of constitutional monarchy during the revolution, seized by Robespierre but released; fled to England during the “reign of terror”; denounced Napoleon as tyrant, for which she was banished, visiting Germany and Italy; in one of the great literary events of the day, published “Corinne,” 1807; married Jean Rocca, young officer nearly half her age, 1811; Napoleon ordered all copies of her De l’Allemagne destroyed, but her son saved final manuscript; eventually fled to England via Russia as Napoleon prepared to invade; returned to Paris after Waterloo; “probably no woman has ever had a more positive influence over political thought of her times” (Helen P. Jenkins, “Madame de Staël,” in Eagle 686-90; “Anne Louise Germaine (née Necker), Madame de Staël-Hollstein“). []
    16. She had engaged in “a one-sided correspondence” with him for some time and, in December, 1797, they met. At first she was smitten and pursued him (only to be spurned). Purportedly, at a dinner party given by Tallyrand, she–seated next to the general–asked him, “Who is the greatest woman, alive or dead?” Bonaparte is said to have replied, “The one that has made the most children” (Herold 179-81). []
    17. Oregonian: “women” []
    18. Theodore Thurston Geer (1851-1924): political writer and farmer; born near Salem, son of Herman J. and Cynthia Ann Eoff Geer; educated in public schools of Salem and Silverton; Oregon Institute, 1863-65; moved to father’s farm, Grand Ronde Valley, 1866; published first political essay in defense of Republican Party during Grant campaign, 1868; married Nancy Duncan Batte, 1870; moved to farm near Salem, 1877, composing political articles for twenty years; elected to Oregon legislature, 1880; reelected 1888, 1890, 1892; speaker, House, 1891; nominated as Republican Presidential Elector, 1896; campaigned for McKinley and gold standard; first native Oregonian to be Governor, 1899-1903; supported initiative and referendum, adopted 1902; editor, Salem Daily Statesman, 1903; purchased Pendleton Tribune, 1905; moved to Portland, 1908; wrote Fifty Years in Oregon, 1911 (Corning 97-98; Portrait and Biographical Record of the Willamette 199-203; Gaston, Portland 3: 484-86). He presided over the Admission Day festivities at which this address was given. []
    19. Oregonian: “had” []
    20. On February 15, 1898, during the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain, a mysterious explosion sank the battleship U.S.S. Maine in the Havana harbor. The ship had been sent partly as a conciliatory gesture to Spanish authorities and partly to protect the lives and property of U.S. citizens presumably endangered by recent anti-Spanish riots. 260 seamen died in the blast. The cause of the disaster was never firmly established, although Spain offered to submit the question of its responsibility to arbitration. Nevertheless, some U.S. newspapers coined the slogan, “Remember the ‘Maine,’ to hell with Spain!” in an effort to whip up public sentiment in favor of armed intervention, which followed in April, precipitating the Spanish-American War. The war ended upon the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898, just two months before Scott Duniway’s speech (“Destruction of the Maine”). []
    21. Oregonian and PB: “governors” []
    22. In 1899, the Oregon legislature voted to submit a suffrage amendment to the people by votes of 25-1 in the Senate and 48-6 in the House; Scott Duniway had been invited to address both houses in regular session, the first time in state history that this honor had been accorded a woman. Here she is anticipating the “still hunt” campaign of 1900, which she directed and which failed by fewer than 2,000 votes (A. Duniway, Path Breaking 154). []
    23. Joaquin (Cincinnatus Hiner) Miller (1839-1913): poet; California miner, 1855; lived with Shasta Indians, 1857; schoolteacher; lawyer (admitted to bar, 1861); pony express rider; Democratic newspaper editor accused of pro-Southern sympathies; Grant County judge, 1866-70; Songs of the Sierras, 1871, made him famous; newspaper correspondent in Klondike, 1897-98, and during Boxer War in China, 1899 (Corning 166; Powers 229-46). []
    24. The poem is entitled “The Bravest Battle” (J. Miller 198). Nontrivial differences between the two versions are noted subsequently. One of her favorites, Abigail would quote it briefly three months later, in “How to Win the Ballot,” and recite it again fifteen years later, in “Home and Mother.” []
    25. Miller: “patiently” []
    26. Miller: “in” []
    27. Miller: “And” []
    28. The final two stanzas do not appear in Miller’s Complete Poetical Works. Scott Duniway also attributes this penultimate stanza to Miller in “Home and Mother.” Perhaps Miller’s “complete” works actually are not; perhaps Abigail invented one or both stanzas. []

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