OREGON STATE SENATE – October 7, 1880

Like clockwork, Scott Duniway had been presenting petitions for a suffrage law to every session of the Oregon legislature since 18721, ultimately, despite varying degrees of support, to no avail. However, in 1880 prohibitionist legislators introduced both prohibition and woman suffrage amendments to the state constitution, prompting “months of squabbling.”2 Abigail–seeking to decouple the two issues in the minds of legislators–condemned “undignified” lobbying by temperance forces and refused to allow O.S.W.S.A. participation in the “fanatical nonsense” of a “one-sided ‘temperance ballot.’”3

However, this antipathy did not prevent her from appearing before each house of the legislature to lobby for suffrage alone. On this Thursday evening, at the Capitol in Salem, the Senate took up consideration of S.J.R. 2, “providing that the elective franchise should not hereafter be denied to any citizen on account of sex.”4 Following an “able, logical, comprehensive and unanswerable” opening address by Charles Fulton5 of Clatsop, the resolution’s author, “Mrs. Duniway was invited to address the Senate for twenty minutes; which invitation was accepted.”6 Solomon Hirsch7, President of the Senate, introduced her “with his usual gentlemanly and courteous demeanor.”

One might expect a speech before an audience of lawmakers to feature the merits and demerits of, to argue for or against, the legislation under consideration. However, such a speech would invite discord, as legislation has its proponents and opponents. Scott Duniway’s rhetorical career repeatedly reveals a preference for appeals that unite rather than divide, for epideictic rather than deliberative form. This address is particularly interesting because it reveals how epideictic gains added persuasive force in particular circumstances. To eschew “the pros and cons of this woman movement” in favor of patriotic appeals to transcendent American political values and chauvinistic appeals to Oregon’s preeminence, as Abigail does here (and elsewhere), is noteworthy. But to do so in the legal context of referendum is remarkable: Where one’s audience must decide not whether to adopt woman suffrage but whether to submit the question to a vote of citizens, deferral of the merits seems even more logical–for isn’t this question reserved to the people?–and appeals, instead, to the values of representative government even more fitting–for what could be more democratic than a plebiscite?

Indeed, so tightly is epideictic form knitted to circumstance here that two deliberative sections remain subordinate, their functions modified. First, Scott Duniway speaks against proposed changes in the constitution that would have made amendment (and hence the road to suffrage) more difficult. While the wisdom of these changes might merit its own discussion, here they become simply mean-spirited legal maneuvers intended to thwart democracy. Second, a section of this speech is virtually a synopsis of her arguments addressed to the Illinois legislature three years before, even repeating the phrase aristocracy of sex.8 There, these arguments generate a divisive dichotomy between suffragists, who love liberty, and anti-suffragists, who are “tyrants.” Here, however, this divisiveness is blunted: A lawmaker opposed to women’s enfranchisement still can demonstrate his fealty to the principles of liberty by voting to submit the question to the voting public. If the public votes the amendment down, all the better! In short, this address is not simply an exemplar of epideictic speaking but a vital lesson in the possible synergies among unifying appeals and material circumstances.

The Senate approved the suffrage resolution the day following Abigail’s address, by a vote of 21-9. The House took it up the following Wednesday, October 13. Following an “animated” discussion during which Abigail, invited to address the members, only commented briefly that she felt “in the presence of her friends” and “would make no argument, deeming none necessary,” the resolution passed again, 28-25.

Suffragists were ecstatic, and Abigail was quick to organize a ratification jubilee and claim credit for the triumph. Quirky and exceedingly burdensome Oregon law required that the resolution be approved by the legislature a second time, in 1882, and then by a majority of voters, in 1884, before finally becoming law.9 In the afterglow of this first legislative victory, though, even a seasoned campaigner like Scott Duniway badly underestimated how truly long was the road that still lay ahead.10

The text and accompanying description of events are taken from the New Northwest, October 14, 1880. This record of her speech begins in the third-person style typical of reporting, but quickly shifts to a first-person voice that implies direct quotation; the transition is marked by brackets in the first sentence.

[Mrs. Duniway expressed her deep appreciation of the high honor the Senate, by its invitation, had conferred upon her as a representative of the great class of otherwise unrepresented though tax-paying citizens of this Commonwealth,] who [,she said] have commissioned me, as their humble servant, to appear before you on their behalf, and urge you to grant to the voters of Oregon the privilege and power to decide whether or not your wives, your mothers, your sisters and your daughters shall be accorded the right to a voice in making the laws of a government which they are taxed to sustain, and to the statutes of which they are held amenable. We are not unmindful that I am here to-night by your courtesy, rather than by acknowledged right, and I confess that I find it a rather difficult task to stand before you and by your consent make a complaint which you have the power–but for your magnanimity–to deprive me of opportunity to make at all. But, if you could read the letters I get from almost every quarter, and by almost every post, written by women who work at the loom, or the churn-dash, or the wash-board, or the cooking stove, and who, through their labor in rearing sons and daughters, are taxed to sustain the government and uphold the laws which you are here to consider, you would not wonder that I, also a mother of men, have the courage to discharge my duty on their behalf to the best of my humble but earnest ability. “Courage,” these Spartan wives and mothers write to me; “we are at home, praying for you.” And, Mr. President, I feel the inspiration of their prayers to-night. They bid me to come before you as their standard-bearer and your friend, to assure you that their interests are your interests, and they will do you good and not evil all the days of your lives. They are willing to trust the voice of the voters, if you will but grant them–their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons–the power to decide that their wives and mothers shall have the same right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that you claim for yourselves. I do not believe that the Senators will feel that they can afford to establish the dangerous precedent that would result from the proposed decision that it would not be possible to submit another amendment to any part of the State Constitution while two or more amendments are pending. It was wisdom on the part of the framers of the Constitution to provide that no amendment to a pending amendment could be offered by the Legislature before which such amendment, while pending, must go for ratification. The man who, in crossing a stream, used the handle of a scythe for a bridge, but failed to see, till it was too late, that in so doing the blade of the instrument must swing round and cut off his head, was not one whit more short-sighted than the Senator who would be willing to so construe a single clause of the Constitution as to make the Constitution itself inoperative as a whole, or even in part.11 Mr. President, I learned, while yet a little child, when attending school in a little log cabin in the heart of a frontier wilderness, to revere the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson, “All men are created equal; endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed; and that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.” I believe the inspiration of liberty was born with every wise woman’s existence. Certain am I that it has grown with her growth and strengthened with her strength; and I well remember the electric thrills that stirred me in every sentient fiber of my nature, when, as a child, the heroic struggles of the revolutionary fathers and mothers, who freely pledged and freely gave their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor that Columbia might be free, were taught in our schools. The Constitution expressly provides that every citizen shall be guaranteed the equal protection of the laws. And yet, Mr. President, one-half of the people are taxed without representation and governed without consent. This government is not a democracy, nor a republic. It is a government of one-half of the people by the other half, instead. It is an aristocracy of sex, wherein one-half of the citizens enjoy a monopoly of the rights and immunities which are denied to the other half. It is not necessary for me to insult the intelligence of an August Senate like this to make the explanation that the generic term men, as applied to the inalienable rights of the human family, includes women. Men are always willing to admit this fact when women’s taxes are due, or when a woman breaks a law that all persons of her sex are denied a voice in making. The man has never yet lived who has said of a woman convicted of crime, “May it please the Court and the jury, I represent this woman. Punish me!” Women complain that they are rated in law with idiots, insane persons, criminals and Chinamen. Time was when they had the negro for company; but modern legislation has reached out its hand and lifted the colored citizen upon the high pedestal of equality before the law; and to-day he is a United States Marshal, a Senator or a Representative in Congress; a law-maker, before whose mandate your wives and mothers must bow while they proclaim the lesson taught by your government–that taxation without representation is tyranny. We ask you, Mr. President, and gentlemen of the Senate, to take the necessary steps to submit this resolution for amending the Constitution to the votes of the sons of women. We believe that you will do your duty. The eyes of the world are upon you. Oregon has already written her name higher than that of any other State in the Union in her recognition of equal rights for the mothers of men. Her legislation has been liberal because her sons have been free. Let the grand picture of the Father of his Country beam upon you to-night with an inspiration of irresistible power. You are making history. The same spirit of liberty that presided over the destinies of Washington a hundred years ago is presiding over the destinies of the people of Oregon to-day. It is in your power to write the name of your young and growing Commonwealth yet higher–aye, the highest of all in the mighty constellation of the United States of America. It is in your power to place the honor upon the brow of Oregon that alone can accrue to the State which shall take the lead in this grand movement for the enfranchisement of the mothers of men. The blue air of the hoary mountains has answered back to the pellucid atmosphere of the billowy ocean, and filled the men and women of this grand young State with the electric fires of an exalted patriotism. Our people have inhaled the spirit of liberty with their very breath. Let them give Oregon an opportunity to lead the van in the great galaxy of States that will surely fall into line when you shall have set the grand example, and your descendants shall see her shine in the history of the centuries to come with a luster that shall dim the glory of a Massachusetts, a North Carolina or an Old Virginia. Mr. President, I know that this is not the time or place for discussing the pros and cons of this woman movement. These will be considered in their proper place before the people after the action of this Honorable Body, for which we now pray, shall have made it possible for them to give or withhold their votes upon it. Thanking you, gentlemen of the Senate, for the high honor you have conferred upon me in the name of womanhood, in listening thus profoundly to my feeble utterances, I rest our case in your hands.


    1. History of Woman Suffrage 4: 770-71. []
    2. Moynihan, Rebel 178. []
    3. New Northwest 16 Sept. 1880, qtd. in Moynihan, Rebel 178-79. []
    4. Journal of the Senate 134. []
    5. Charles William Fulton (1853-1918): state and U.S. Senator; Republican; born Lima, Ohio; studied law and admitted to Nebraska bar, April, 1875; left for Oregon three days later; taught school at Waterloo (Linn County) until July, when entered law practice in Astoria; elected to state senate, 1878, 1880, 1891, 1893, 1898, 1899, 1901; presiding officer for three sessions; elected by state senate to U.S. Senate, 1903-09; prosecutions of the Mitchell faction for land fraud resulted in defeat in 1908 primaries (Corning 94; Portrait and Biographical Record of the Willamette 90-91; Scott, History of the Oregon Country 1: 346-47). []
    6. Journal of the Senate 34. []
    7. (1839-1902): born Wurtemburg, Germany; emigrated to Oregon, 1858; merchant in Dallas, 1858-61, Silverton, 1861-64, then Portland (founder and partner of Fleishner, Mayer & Co., wholesale dry goods firm); state legislature, 1872; state senate, 1874-85; missed by one vote (his own) being elected by legislature to U.S. Senate; U.S. Minister to Turkey, 1889-92; declined later diplomatic posts to both Constantinople and Brussels (Corning 115; Gaston, Portland 2: 144-49; Portrait and Biographical Record of the Willamette 164-69). []
    8. Constitutional Liberty and the Aristocracy of Sex.” []
    9. The initiative and referendum reform was not adopted until 1902 and did not influence a suffrage campaign until 1906 (Moynihan, Rebel 210; “A Pioneer Incident” n. 2). Scott Duniway personally opposed submission of the suffrage question to the voters. Believing that there was no Constitutional bar to women voting, she favored a simple declaratory act and, two years earlier (in September, 1878), had reprimanded the legislature to its face for its “growing desire . . . to shirk its responsibility” (History of Woman Suffrage 3: 775; see also son Willis’ letter to the Woman’s Journal 21 Feb. 1885). No doubt she also was convinced that suffrage would fare better among the enlightened members of the legislature, whom she had been cultivating for years, than among the rabble of men. But she played the hand that she was dealt. []
    10. Moynihan, Rebel 179. []
    11. Apparently, opponents of equal suffrage, possibly anticipating defeat, proposed by subterfuge to prevent the legislature of 1882 from considering any suffrage resolution passed in 1880, denying the possibility of a second legislative approval and preventing a referendum (Oregonian 9 Feb. 1881). []

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