“UPWARD STEPS IN A THIRD OF A CENTURY” – circa February 7-13, 1906

When the National American Woman Suffrage Association met for its thirty-eighth convention at the Lyric Theatre in Baltimore, “the need of the hour” was Oregon. Throughout its proceedings, the upcoming June referendum “was the uppermost thought”: Appeals were made for funds, plans were made in business meetings, and “hopeful” speeches of “probable success” were delivered. ((History of Woman Suffrage 5: 161.)) One of these speeches was written by the embattled former president of the Oregon State Equal Suffrage Association, Abigail Scott Duniway; when she could not attend, it was presented by another delegate from the Land of Webfoot, her niece, Lillian Cooke Olds. (((?-1914): born Lafayette, Oregon; daughter of Amos and Mary Frances Scott Cook (1833-1930), Abigail’s older sister; married William Parker Olds (1857-?), successful merchant who was president of Olds, Wortman, and King department store, Portland Woolen Mills, and Portland Retail Dealers Association, 1880; active in Unitarian Church, Women’s Union, Mann Old People’s Home, and Florence Crittenton Home; loved music and literature; died April 6, of heart failure after several months of ill health (Gaston, Portland 2: 400-03; Oregon Daily Journal 7 Apr. 1914; Morning Oregonian 7 Apr. 1914; Scrapbook #49: 206, OR Hist. Soc.).))

Amid continuing controversy over her past leadership and methods, Scott Duniway felt compelled to defend herself. Thus, this address melds several familiar themes. It lavishes praise on Oregon and on the progressive thinking to be found there. It appeals to the “chivalrous” instincts of the men who live there. It also posits ever-increasing support for the cause of equal suffrage, in order to convey a sense of momentum–even inevitability–and thereby reassure doubters and detractors. More antagonistically, Scott Duniway rebukes the “one-idead” who would link prohibition with women’s enfranchisement, and explicitly defends her “still hunt” methods. Most interesting, and perhaps just as divisive, however, is her evident disdain of privilege. Always lurking beneath her refrain that Oregon is a land of special destiny where women have earned equal rights, a class-based argument, which attributes disagreement over strategy to the difference between wealthy, indolent women and hard-working pioneers like herself, surfaces here.

But the die was cast, and Scott Duniway’s arguments were futile. Within a month, Susan B. Anthony would die and a host of suffragists would descend upon Oregon, to campaign in symbolic tribute to her memory. Temperance women wearing white ribbons for prohibition would become the most visible campaigners in the public eye. Abigail would be “ignored and slandered, her methods ridiculed.” ((Moynihan, Rebel 212. Headed by Anna Howard Shaw, the campaigners included Laura Clay, Alice Stone Blackwell, and Kate M. Gordon, national officers all, as well as Mary S. and Lucy E. Anthony, publicist Ida Porter Boyer of Pennsylvania, and national organizers Laura A. Gregg of Kansas, Mary C. C. Bradford of Colorado, and Gail Laughlin of Illinois (History of Woman Suffrage 6: 542).))

Scott Duniway’s address was published in several newspapers, including the Sunday Oregonian of February 11, 1906, and the Oregon State Journal of February 17. I follow the former, with minor discrepancies noted.

Madam President, Members of the Convention, Ladies and Gentlemen: The State of Oregon is glad to bring to you the greetings of her progressive citizens from every part of her broad domain, which reaches from the tree-clad summits of her mighty mountain ranges to the embroidered edges of her sundown seas.

Although she is as yet an infant state as compared with Maryland, New York or Massachusetts, Oregon today stands pre-eminent before the world in the array of her equal suffrage forces as the only state within the Union [where women do not] ((OSJ: “except the four where women already”)) possess the right of suffrage in which our movement has any reasonable prospect of early triumph.

Although Oregon today represents a population of only about half a million souls, scattered over an area of 92,974 square miles, yet this sparse population represents a taxable valuation of property amounting to many hundreds of millions of dollars. Her products include every variety of merchantable, manufactured, agricultural and mineral output known to the temperate zones. Her scenery is indescribably magnificent, her soil is exceedingly fertile and her climate is mild, diversified, healthy and salubrious. Her common schools and institutions of higher learning have already attained renown, her churches are second to none and her moral tone is equal to the highest average anywhere. But great as have been the achievements of her people, in tunneling the mountains, leveling the forests, erecting the habitations, building the bridges, draining the lowlands and irrigating the arid belts, all of which abound within the confines of her vast empire, greater by far are her broad-brained, big-hearted men, who, having represented themselves in their part of the development of the country, are now moving forward in a self-respecting phalanx, determined, if not outvoted by one-idea objectors, to extend to their wives and mothers the equal political rights and privileges which men enjoy, and which came to them without the asking.

Although occasional settlements of white people began to take root and grow in Oregon in the early years of the 19th century, it was not till the year 1843 that a regular path or beaten track was made across the continent by men and women who consumed six months or longer in their hazardous march, with teams of oxen, toward the setting sun.

Much heavier emigration from the older states followed the earlier pathfinders in the years 1845-6-7, but the greatest activity in migration began in 1850, and was increased to far greater proportions in 1851 and ‘52, when thousands of men, women and children plunged bravely into the almost unknown wilderness, many of them, alas, to die beside their faithful oxen, without a glimpse of the Promised Land, but many more surviving to reach the goal ((Scott Duniway’s family made the trek in the “big migration” of 1852. Her mother, Ann Roelofson Scott, died of “plains cholera” near Laramie, Wyoming, on June 20. Three-and-a-half year old Willie Scott succumbed to “cholera infantum, or dropsy of the brain” on August 29, along the Snake River (Moynihan, Rebel 35, 39). Chapter 3 of Moynihan’s Rebel for Rights recounts the journey. Abigail’s “Journal of a Trip to Oregon” can be found in the Duniway Papers, and on microfilm at the Oregon Historical Society. Scott’s History of the Oregon Country contains a short synopsis that Abigail wrote in 1900 (3: 246-49), and a day-by-day narrative compiled by her nephew (Harvey’s son), Leslie,  from her journal and other sources (3: 249-325).)) and begin the work which today sees the whole of Oregon divided into three prosperous and mighty states, in one of which, the State of Idaho, the men and women together already enjoy the united and equal station, designed by the Creator, when he gave to men and women joint dominion over all the earth and everything upon and within it except each other.

Oregon came into the Union as a territorial addition to the vast domain of these United States, bringing with her the spirit of liberty and justice, engendered and cultivated by minute acquaintance with the extent and magnitude of her environments. And, let it ever be remembered to the credit of men, thus environed, that Oregon was the first division of the Nation’s great domain to gain for married women, the producers of men, the right to hold, in fee simple, by direct deed from the United States Government, through special act of Congress, the soil upon which their children were born, where they could, for the first time in the history of nations, own their own primitive homes and protect their children from wild beasts and wilder savages with their own rifles, when their husbands were on duty in the chase or the field.

Is it any wonder that sons of women such as these are today preparing to cast their votes for the extension to the daughters of such men as these the full recognition of their inalienable right to a voice in the government which they are taxed to maintain and to whose laws they are held amenable?

Is it any wonder that such men are saying to such women, “Come up higher?” Is it any wonder that such men are saying to such women, “We, your fathers, husbands, brothers and sons, will henceforth claim no rights, emoluments or duties for ourselves which we are not willing to share with you, at your option”?

This was the almost universal sentiment among our voters when our great National American Woman Suffrage Association met in Portland, in convention last June. Leading women from every part of the Union were surprised to meet this unanimity of sentiment, and our National officers were both pleased and amazed, but the leaders in Oregon, who had been on the ground from the beginning, and especially its original and devoted, and for many years its only standard bearer, had no reason to be amazed, for we knew the men of Old Oregon to be as chivalrous and patriotic as they were magnanimous and free.

Under the new Constitutional ruling that now prevails with us through the Initiative and Referendum Amendment ((“A Pioneer Incident” n. 2.)), the progressive men of the state have carried our movement beyond the dictum of the State Legislative Assembly, out into the untrammeled arena of the ballot box, where the voter may mark his ballot in secret with no politician at his elbow to molest him or make him afraid. If this secret ballot were not a two-edged sword, which may cut both ways, we could have no fear of the result of the coming June election.

As a military General would be recreant to his highest duty if he should neglect or refuse to consider every possible move of the enemy pitted against his army before going into battle, so, in this connection, I must tell you of two great obstructions in our path which are pulling together, though ostensibly against each other, which to all intents and purposes are operating to defeat our patriotic army of voters. And these forces are both in the field and were never so active as now. One of these armies, the party of the first part, has the unlimited power of the ballot at its back, accompanied by the unlimited use of money ((The liquor and related trades. Just two weeks before the election, the Brewers’ and Wholesale Liquor Dealers’ Association of Oregon circulated to every retail liquor seller in the state a pamphlet requesting each retailer to secure twenty-five “nay” votes from among his employees and business acquaintances. It contained tickets for distribution, demonstrating how to mark one’s ballot, and a numbered postcard that was to be returned to the Association to prove compliance. Although the scheme was uncovered and publicized, the arm-twisting worked. More than many suffragists, Abigail possessed a realistic understanding of the mischief that this enemy, if stirred up, could work  (Moynihan, Rebel 212; History of Woman Suffrage 6: 543-44).)), and the party of the second part, blinded with the infatuation of its one idea, cannot be prevailed upon to retreat to cover because it thinks it sees the ballot already in woman’s grasp ((Prohibitionists)); and so it is measuring woman’s political weakness with the power of the party of the first part, that is fully armed with votes and capital. And this party of the second part, which is campaigning in the open while its balloted opponents work in ambush, will not see that it is being used merely as a cat’s paw to rake from the fires of politics the chestnuts of one-idead politicians, who care nothing for our success or failure, as equal suffragists, except as they hope to use the ballots of women for the achievement of their one ambition.

The balloted power of the party of the first part has, in addition to its immense voting constituency, a reinforcement of a few idle and wealthy women, who openly proclaim that they have no sympathy with the great industrial and productive classes of women who are making the world habitable. And the party of the first part is using this power of wealth and idleness as a cat’s paw to rake its chestnuts from the fires of politics, thus placing our movement between two opposing forces, the first of which is rooted in every rye and barley field, every hopyard and drying-house, every vineyard and every saloon and bank and brewery and transportation line, and reaches into the pockets not only of all these vested interests, but affects the financial accommodations of thousands of landlords, many of whom are pillars of our churches, who think they see in the enfranchisement of women a menace to their direct means of gain or livelihood. This party of balloted hosts includes also the ironminer, the smelter and hoopiron manufacturer, the glassblower, the bottler, the tax-gatherer and bartender, all of whom have votes, while beyond and over all of these diversified interests stands the Federal Government, raking in a tremendous revenue, backed by the municipal power of every chartered city of almost every town.

In view of facts like these, I am hoping, though almost against hope, that the wisest men in the party of the first part will be able to see in the enfranchisement of the women of Oregon the same power to cure the emotional politics of women that has cured the women of the four states that have already extended the elective franchise to the wives and mothers within their borders.

No man in Oregon needs to be told that taxation without representation is tyranny. But the newcomers among us do not generally know that the women of our state were granted by the Legislative Assembly in the year 1872, an act entitled “The Married Woman’s Sole Trader Bill,” which enables any woman, when compelled from whatever cause to support or help support her family, to hold her stock in trade or implements of industry secure from seizure by the creditors of her husband. ((Richey, “Unsinkable” 87; Morning Oregonian 9 Feb. 1881.))

Afterwards, as the years advanced and men continued to grow in wisdom and chivalry, the Legislature created other laws, almost all of them in advance of laws made by older states, all tending to the final elevation of the mothers of men from the political companionship of idiots, insane persons, criminals, Chinamen not native born, and Indians not taxed. But this granting of privileges to women in lieu of rights has served in the light of experience, to increase our demand for fundamental rights by showing us more and more clearly the necessity therefor.

In the year 1884 we sought and obtained, through the Legislative Assembly, the privilege to submit to the voters a proposition to amend the state constitution by striking the word “male” from its article on privileges and elections. And this movement, which started in 1872, from the small beginning before noted, we found by actual count, had grown from almost nothing, in 14 years, to fully one-third of the entire vote of the state.

In the year 1900 we were permitted by legislative enactment to appeal to the voters again, with the result that the men at the ballot boxes throughout the state gave us over 48 per cent of the entire vote, and two-thirds of the counties giving us large majorities. But our geometrical progression alarmed the manipulators of the political machine, and a cry was raised that we [were] required to win a two-thirds majority of all the votes cast in the state, counted on the basis of the highest number of the vote cast on any question, or for any candidate whomsoever. And the initiative and referendum amendment, which only requires a majority vote on the question at issue, being already on its way to the voters, we resolved to retreat to cover, follow the line of least resistance, till the undisputed right of the majority to rule should become a law. In pursuance of this plan, I, as president of the State Equal Suffrage Association for many years, called off our suffrage forces and organized and carried on a still hunt, which was so adroitly managed that our opponents when they awoke and found that in enlarging their opportunities they had materially advanced our own, were taken completely by surprise.

The industrial changes which have been going on in the civilized world for years, reached Oregon in due time, bringing women into ruinous competition with the balloted classes by taking from them so much of their opportunity to earn, or help to earn a livelihood within the home that many of them have been compelled to find work outside of the home if they are to have any homes at all to keep.

The men, God bless them, are carrying our fruit to canneries and evaporators, and have deprived us of that means of revenue. They have taken our washing to laundries, our dairy work to creameries and our bread and pastry-making to bakeries and confectioneries. The woman cook has been supplanted by the masculine chef. The waiters and chambermaids of our first-class hostelries are men, and even the man milliner and dressmaker are making our clothes.

The farmer’s wife still drudges at the old stand, but her sons long ago left the old way, and her daughters followed in due course, entering as wage-earners into woman’s competition with balloted men, bringing wages down, and the price of living commodities up. Our foremost thinkers see, not only these conditions but the causes that have led thereto, and have learned that there is but one solution to these problems of work and wages, so the wisest man says, “Give woman the ballot and let her own works praise her in the gates.”

The men of Oregon are making history. Our great Lewis and Clark Exposition placed her in the lime light of the world. No other state has come so strongly into notice since the beginning of the 20th century. “As goes Oregon so goes the Union,” has been the motto in many a bloodless battle of ballots. And when the ides of June shall have come and gone, if the fiat shall have gone forth proclaiming that her wives and mothers have been made equal with her husbands and fathers before the law, the whole progressive world will sound her praises as never before. In any event we will never give up the struggle till we win, for then and not till then can men and women both be free indeed.


    Comments are disabled for this post