This brief Presidential address was delivered at the opening session of the sixth annual convention, meeting in Astoria. It is interesting, if not remarkable, for its juxtaposition of two basic themes.  First, it illustrates Scott Duniway’s recurrent optimism, asserting that conditions have never been more favorable and that ultimate success is inevitable. Second, it reveals, somewhat obliquely, the practical and organizational impediments to success which Scott Duniway faced, particularly conflict and division within O.S.W.S.A. and a perceived lack of financial support for the New Northwest. The tension between the two themes is unresolved: The second may be taken to give the lie to the first, or the first may seem to mute the seriousness of the second, as if to say “this, too, shall pass.”

The text is taken from the proceedings of the convention, published in the New Northwest (August 15, 1878).

The object of our meeting, as you are aware, is to so take counsel together that we may be enabled to devise ways and means to carry on the work of woman’s enfranchisement to its complete fulfillment. Never have our prospects been so favorable and the outlook so hopeful as now. Our movement has risen from the ridicule and misrepresentations of former times to a position of acknowledged merit. We are heard in the Senate of the United States, in State legislatures, and in constitutional conventions. There is not a village or hamlet in all America where the voice of our pleading is not respectfully considered. The iron grip of prejudice is fast loosening his hold, and his twin brother, ignorance, will speedily follow in his wake.

The present dissatisfaction throughout the nation concerning the existing order of things in the political world shows plainly to the analytical thinker that this government of the United States, which men call a republic, but which is, in reality, an aristocracy of sex, this government of one-half of the people by the other half of the people, is on the eve of an important change. We nowhere see the old party lines so rigidly drawn as formerly.1 Women are not the only class who are being imbued with a higher sense of freedom. Men are proving that the leaven of freedom is working with them, as well. They are rising in their individual selfhood as never before, to rid themselves of party shackles and proclaim their determination to do their own thinking; and the needed efforts to accomplish results for which they are now striving will awaken new necessities in political tactics. The times are ripe for a radical change in the governmental idea. The removal of old landmarks, to carry them forward to greater heights under the inevitable law of human progression, will naturally break away the dykes that have for a hundred years walled in the citadels of government from the equal possession of all the people; and men, scarcely knowing what they have done, will very soon awake to find that their forward movements have, all unintended by themselves, irresistibly carried ours along with it.

In the deliberations that are to come up before this body, the expediency and inexpediency, the right and wrong of woman’s demand for equality before the law, will be duly considered. I shall not discuss them in this brief address. I would only speak a work of encouragement, by pointing out to you the hopeful indications of the political zodiac. We are here not so much for the purpose of securing our right to equality before the law–for that, under the mutations of progress, will ultimately come anyhow–as we are here to hasten the work, and to assist in preparing the masculine and feminine minds to receive it. There is a work to do before the coming State legislature. You are to devise the ways and means to accomplish that work. There is a field of immediate and important action now open in Washington Territory, where the equal rights of women are to be voted up or down by their male children.2 Your attention is respectfully called to that field.

There is need of harmonious action upon the part of all of us, and there is urgent need of funds to sustain our paper and provide for labor in the field. Let no short-sighted selfishness, no side issue, nor spirit of avarice be allowed to actuate any of us. Let us come up to this missionary work divested of mercenary spirit; and in honor preferring one another, let each of us prove our inalienable right to “liberty and the pursuit of happiness” by making of ourselves a personal example of the liberty we seek for all.3


  1. Probably a reference generally to the economic upheavals of the mid-1870s, beginning with the financial panic of 1873 that resulted in depression and labor strife, and more particularly to the Greenback movement that crystallized therein. When the crash depressed prices and wages, farmers and laborers demanded the issuance of additional “greenbacks” (not backed by gold) or unlimited coinage of silver. Advocates of an expanded currency formed the Greenback-Labor Party in 1874 and elected 14 members of Congress in the midterm elections of 1878 (“Greenback movement”). The New Northwest had editorialized in defense of greenbacks earlier in the year (12 Apr. 1878). Of course, there were other minor parties as well, including the Prohibition Party, organized in 1869. []
  2. The Washington Territory constitutional convention, which Scott Duniway had lobbied earlier that summer (see her June 18, 1878, speech), adjourned on July 27, only eleven days before this address. All attempts to strike the word “male” as a qualification of voters had failed (Puget Sound Weekly Courier 26 July 1878). []
  3. The O.S.W.S.A. always was a lively group of diverse personalities and opinions. Typical were the battles between Scott Duniway and Dr. Mary Anna Cooke Thompson (1825-1919), a native New Yorker who came to Portland in 1867 as the city’s first woman physician. Cooke Thompson, a charter member of O.S.W.S.A., also was a prohibitionist who believed in the natural moral superiority of women, and she and Scott Duniway sparred constantly over the movement’s goals (Moynihan, Rebel, 147, 149, 187). In the very issue of the New Northwest that carries this convention’s proceedings and her address, Abigail elsewhere calls Cooke Thompson “dictatorial and selfish, exacting, loquacious and egotistical.” Scott Duniway also clashed with Josephine DeVore Johnson, a member of the publishing committee of the Pacific Christian Advocate, whose editorial stance Abigail never could abide. At a convention in 1881, amidst a discussion of the reason that women wore smaller hats than men, one member offered that the size of the frontal lobe resulted from cultivation: “when women have a chance to cultivate their heads they grow as large as men.” At this, Abigail remarked tartly that “Mrs. Johnson’s head was 7 3/8 already” (Morning Oregonian 11 Feb. 1881). (Interestingly, later that year the Woman’s Journal gave no hint of such discord, calling DeVore Johnson “Mrs. Duniway’s right-hand supporter in running the machinery of women’s conventions [13 Aug. 1881].) The final sentence of this speech, in particular, is almost certainly a jab at the prohibitionists, reflecting Abigail’s conviction that women could not consistently demand liberty for themselves while seeking to deprive men of theirs. []

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