Annually since the Civil War, suffragists had petitioned the Congress for voting rights for women, and in this, the nineteenth year of lobbying, Scott Duniway joined the delegation that addressed the Senate in Washington, D.C., the day after the N.W.S.A. convention.1 In a reversal of roles from their 1871 campaign, she was introduced by her mentor, Susan B. Anthony, who called her “the one canvasser in the great State of Oregon and Washington Territory” to whom “the women of Washington Territory are more indebted than to all other influences for their enfranchisement.”

Scott Duniway steadfastly appealed to the natural rights principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, a strategy particularly well-suited to the Congressional audience she addressed on this occasion. Yet precisely this context casts the fault lines in her approach into especially sharp relief, because they reflect the deeper ambiguities of representative democracy.

Scott Duniway acknowledges that, absent the right to vote, women’s only power is nonpolitical, i.e., the power of persuasion; for women to petition over a matter in which they have no voice is an “anomaly.” This predicament accounts for her rhetorical modus operandi, praise; she believed that women could not afford to antagonize the men who would decide their fate. Thus, in typical fashion, this speech praises the pro-suffrage sentiments of western pioneers, appeals to men’s sense of chivalry, and contends that all the best classes favor suffrage. However, she also must justify her petition and so warns that, unless Congress acts, the fate of the “enlightened, educated motherhood of the State of Oregon” will be decided by ignorant men, “many of whom cannot read.” In effect, she asks one class of men to moot the natural right of franchise of another class of men by bestowing it upon women as a class. When is a natural right not a natural right? Like numerous political theorists before and after her, Abigail wrestled mightily with the dilemmas of representative democracy that crystallized in the question of the “educated vote.”2

As she acknowledges, this was no merely abstract question in Oregon but was made urgent by the requirements for amending the constitution. Had equal suffrage been conferable by simple act of the legislature, it would have come in 1880, and again in 1882. Unquestionably, the further requirement of a popular majority thus was seen as a regrettable third hurdle. Those, including Scott Duniway, who had worked so hard for eleven years or more, came to feel that the legislature, consisting of “intelligent” men representing the “better classes,” already had ratified the justness of their cause–that they had won!–and they could not bring themselves to view the coming popular vote as a true test of its merits; the vote could be only an opportunity for the “ignorant” and “vicious” classes to snatch victory away. It probably is not coincidental that Abigail appears not to have fully formulated this nativist, class argument until after 1880, when the legislature first ratified the amendment; political realities and human nature combined to make its development inevitable.3

The simmering racism and nativism in this argument would boil over in recriminations following the June defeat. In a lengthy column in the New Northwest on June 5, Scott Duniway pointed to Michigan, Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska, where suffrage amendments had been submitted to the voters and where “an active public campaign by women had only demonstrated how powerless they were to meet an ambushed enemy, with their hands fettered and the foes’ all free.” So, instead of an “open campaign with local and imported speakers,” she had implemented “a silent but vigorous plan” printing “Yes” tickets, organizing county management and employing poll workers.

This was the “still hunt” method that Scott Duniway would defend vociferously for the rest of her life. Defeat came not from any failure of strategy but from want of funds to carry it out.4 Her means amounted to “a mere pint in the ocean” when measured against anti-suffrage forces “backed by local and national political parties, fed and sustained by the whisky ring of the cities, the ignorance and tyranny of the country, the gamblers and habitues of disreputable houses, and the slums everywhere.”  Then, in particularly ugly terms, she blamed defeat on the “sharper-witted” among opposing “ward-strikers” who “kept themselves busy all the day in putting ‘NO’ on all the tickets voted by all the ignorant, blear-eyed, red-nosed, beer-guzzling pauper hordes who flood our land from foreign climes, bringing with them the vices of their barbaric natures and the tyrannical spirit for oppression that they were subjected to themselves when existing under monarchical rule across the seas.”5 Abigail, like so many others, never could resolve the tension between a natural rights defense of equal suffrage and its practical consequences.6

The text is taken from the Congressional Record, January 25, 1887. This version, published three years after the fact, is substantially similar to, but more complete than, the New Northwest‘s more contemporaneous report. Material only in the Record appears in “[ ]”; other minor differences are footnoted.

Gentlemen of the committee: Do you think it possible that an agitation like this can go on and on forever without a victory? Do you not see that the golden moment has come for this [grand] committee to achieve immortality upon the grandest idea that has ever stirred the heartbeats of American citizens, and will you not in the magnanimity of noble purposes rise to meet the situation and accede to our demand, which in your hearts you must know is just?

[I do not come before you, gentlemen, with the expectation to instruct you in regard to the laws of our country. The women around us are law-abiding women. They are the mothers, many of them, of true and noble men, the wives, many of them, of grand, free husbands, who are listening, watching, waiting eagerly for successful tidings of this great experiment.]

There never was a grander theory of government than that of these7 United States. Never were grander principles enunciated upon any platform, never so grand before and never can be grander again, than the declaration that “all men,” including of course all women, since women are amenable to the laws, “are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights * * * that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Gentlemen, are we allowed the opportunity of consent? These women who are here from Maine to Oregon, from the Straits of Fuca8 to the reefs of Florida, who in their representative capacity have come up here so often, augmented in their numbers year by year, looking with eyes of hope and hearts of faith, but oftentimes with hopes deferred, upon the final solution of this great problem, which it is so much in your hands to hasten its solution–these women are in earnest. My State is far away beyond the confines of the Rocky Mountains, away over beside the singing Pacific sea, but the spirit of liberty is among us there, and the public heart has been stirred. The hearts of our men have been moved to listen to our demands, and in Washington Territory, as one speaker has informed you, women to-day are endowed with full and free enfranchisement, and the rejoicing throughout that Territory is universal.

In Oregon men have also listened to our demand, and the Legislature has in two successive sessions agreed upon a proposition to amend our State constitution, a proposition which will be submitted for ratification to our voters at the [coming] June election. It is simply a proposition declaring that the right of suffrage shall not hereafter be prohibited in the State of Oregon on account of sex. Your action in the Senate of the United States will greatly determine the action of the voters of Oregon on our, or rather on their, election day, for we stand before the public in the anomaly of petitioners upon a great question in which we, in its final decision, are allowed no voice, and we can only stand with expectant hearts and almost bated breath awaiting the action of men who are to make this decision.

We have great hope for our victory, because the men of the broad[, free] West are [grand, and] chivalrous[,] and free. They have gone across the mighty continent with free steps; they have raised the standard of a new Pacific empire; they have imbibed the spirit of liberty with their very breath, and they have listened to us far in advance of many of the men of the older States who have not had their opportunity among the grand free wilds of nature for expansion.

So all of our leaders are with us to-day. You may go to either member of the Senate of the United States from Oregon, and while I cannot speak so positively for the senior member9, as he came over here some years ago before the public were so well educated as now, I can and do proudly vouch for the late Senator-elect Dolph10, who now has a seat upon the floor of the Senate, who is heart and soul and hand and purse in sympathy with this great movement for the enfranchisement of the women of Oregon. I would also be unjust to our worthy representative in the lower house, Hon. M. C. George11, did I not proudly speak his name in this great connection. Men of this class are with us, and without regard to party affiliations we know that they are upon our side. Our governor12, our associate supreme13 judge for the district of the Pacific14, all of these men, are leading in the grand free way that characterizes the men of the West in assisting in this work. But we have–alas, that I should be compelled to say it–a great many men who pay no heed whatever to this question. Men will be entitled to a voice in this decision who are not, like members of Congress, the picked men of the nation or the State, but men, many of whom can not read, who will have an opportunity to decide this question as far as their ballots can go. These are they to whom the enlightened, educated motherhood of the State of Oregon must look largely for the decision.

This brings me to the [grand] point of our coming to Congress. Some of you say to us, “Why not leave this matter for settlement in the different States?” When we leave it for settlement in the different States we leave it just as I have told you, because of the constitutional provisions of our organic law we can not do otherwise; but if the question were to be settled by the Legislature of Oregon alone it would be settled now; and I, as a representative of that State only, would have no need of coming here; it would be settled just as it has been settled in Washington Territory; but when we come here to Congress it is the great nation asking you to take such legislative action in submitting an amendment to the Constitution of the United States as shall recognize the equality of these women who are here; these women who have come here from all parts of the country, whose constituents are looking on while we are here before you. As we reflect that our feeblest words uttered before this committee will go to the confines of this nation [and be cabled] across the great Atlantic and around the globe, we realize that more and more prominently our cause is growing into public favor, and the time is just upon us when some decision must be made.

Gentlemen of the committee, will you not recognize the importance of the movement? Who among you will be our standard-bearer? Who among you will achieve immortality by standing up in these halls in which we are forbidden to speak, and in the magnanimity of your own free wills and noble hearts champion the woman’s cause and make us before the law, as we of right ought now to be, free and independent?


    1. According to a report in the New Northwest, others in the delegation included: Harriette Robinson Shattuck, author and scholar of parliamentary law, from Massachusetts; May Eliza Wright Sewall, educator, clubwoman, and pacifist, of Indiana; Helen Mar Jackson Gougar, temperance reformer, of Indiana; Mary Seymour Howell, lecturer, of New York; Caroline Gilkey Rogers of New York; Elizabeth Boynton Harbert, author and lecturer, of Illinois; Elizabeth Johnson Devereaux Blake of New York; and Susan B. Anthony. This report claims that Scott Duniway spoke seventh (27 Mar. 1884). The New Northwest published speeches by Scott Duniway, Robinson Shattuck and Wright Sewall on April 24, 1884, and by Jackson Gougar and Seymour Howell the following week, May 1.

      According to the Congressional Record, in which these proceedings were reprinted, also present were Dr. Clemence Sophia Harned Lozier, physician, of New York; and Sarah E. Wall, of Worcester, Massachusetts, who for twenty-five years had protested her status as unrepresented by refusing to pay taxes. This report indicates that Abigail spoke fourth (25 Jan. 1887: 992-96).

      A third report, in the History of Woman Suffrage, briefly excerpts most of these speeches but ignores Scott Duniway, Harned Lozier, and Wall (4: 36-42). Abigail wrote that she also addressed the House Judiciary Committee the following day, March 8, and the New York state association convention in Albany on March 11-12. History of Woman Suffrage confirms the latter (4: 839), but she is not mentioned in its report of the former (4: 42-47). []

    2. The nativist undercurrent in Scott Duniway’s argument boiled to the surface in Helen Mar Jackson Gougar’s comments to the committee: “. . . the older empires of the earth are sending to the United States a population drawn very largely from their asylums, penitentiaries, jails and poor-houses. . . . While I would not have you take this right from those men whom we invite to our shores, I do ask you, in the face of this immense foreign immigration, to enfranchise the tax-paying, intelligent, moral, native-born women of America” (History of Woman Suffrage 4: 37). []
    3. Certainly the contrast between the enlightened and unwashed had been a part of her rhetoric, and particularly of her optimistic accounts of progress, from the beginning. However, the contrast turned more on differences of intellect and disposition than national origin. Looking ahead to the 1884 campaign in 1880, she predicted: “In the cities and large towns the bulk of the vote against it will be thrown, while the farmers and villagers will be strong for it. The agriculturalists, as a rule, are much more thoughtful and intelligent than the laborers that crowd the cities. The former read and study during much of their spare time, while the latter idle away their leisure hours in gambling dens, saloons and billiard rooms” (New Northwest 9 Dec. 1880). Thus, as more and more immigrants settled in the burgeoning cities, the road to nativism in the early ‘80s was paved. See her address to the Oregon Pioneer Association in 1882. See also the proceedings of the ninth annual convention of O.S.W.S.A., at which a spirited discussion of “universal” suffrage ensued, and at which Abigail called for “intelligent and moral qualifications” for voters (Morning Oregonian 10 Feb. 1881). It was about this time (1883 or so), Leslie Roberts reports, that anxiety about immigration became a factor in the state, due to both the presence of foreign communities in Oregon and news of more pressing problems in the east (150). []
    4. In a remarkable public accounting, approaching a public flogging, in the June 5 issue, Abigail–naming names–revealed that she had raised a mere $1,491 from Eastern suffragists, fully $1,000 of which was given by Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell via the American Woman Suffrage Association. She had been promised much more, she wrote, but “the majority of the women of the East were unwilling–or unable–to keep their pledges.” Even when added to $2,480 raised in Oregon and Washington, “a number of small sums donated by friends and members” of O.S.W.S.A., and “large sums” that she “personally borrowed,” the whole “dwindles to nothing when scattered over so great a State–being the pitiful figure of less than $4 for a precinct.” []
    5. Such electoral shenanigans were commonplace in the days before the Australian ballot and other modern reforms brought much-needed order and integrity to the voting process. Oregon did not adopt the secret ballot until 1891 (Dodds 158). []
    6. Two weeks later (June 19, 1884), the New Northwest would print a letter from “a foreigner of Clatsop County” who took exception to Scott Duniway’s comments. She replied lamely that “we did not unqualifiedly criticize all foreigners,” conceded that “the better element among the foreign vote was and is on the side of right and justice,” but insisted that “this does not alter the fact that nine out of ten foreigners, as a whole, were opposed to the measure.” Eight years later, she was still discoursing at length on the dangers of the foreign vote; see “Woman Suffrage and the Republican Party.” []
    7. New Northwest: “the” []
    8. The straits on the southern side of Vancouver Island, which enter into Puget Sound. Named after Juan de Fuca (a name assumed by Greek seaman Apostolas Valerinos in connection with his service to Spain), who allegedly discovered them in 1592; this story’s historical accuracy was contested in the Oregon press in the 1880s (Scott, History of the Oregon Country 1: 140-46). []
    9. James Harvey Slater (1826-1899): Congressman, editor; born near Springfield, Illinois; came to California, 1849, and to Oregon, 1850, settling at Corvallis; admitted to bar, 1854; clerk, U.S. District Court, 1854-56; territorial legislator, 1857-59; owner/editor, Oregon Weekly Union, 1859-61; state legislator, 1859-60; moved to Baker City, 1862, and to La Grande, 1866; state district attorney, 1866-68; U.S. House, 1871-73; U.S. Senate, 1879-85; state railroad commissioner, 1887-89; leader, anti-Asahel Bush faction, Democratic party (Corning 226; Scott, History of the Oregon Country 5: 276-77). []
    10. Joseph Norton Dolph (1835-1897): born Schuyler County, New York; admitted to bar, 1861; enlisted in Oregon Escort, company of militia authorized by Congress to escort emigrants to territory, 1862; married Augusta Mulkey; practiced law, Portland, 1862-83; U.S. district attorney, 1865-66; state senator, 1866-68 and 1872-76; U.S. Senator, 1883-95; Republican; John Hipple Mitchell’s law partner (Corning 74; Portrait and Biographical Record of the Willamette 180-83; Scott, History of the Oregon Country 3: 135). []
    11. Melvin Clark George (1849-1933): educator, lawyer, congressman; born in Ohio; came to Oregon with parents, 1851; admitted to Oregon bar, 1875; principal of Albany schools; state senator, 1876-80; U.S. Representative, 1880-84; circuit judge, 1897-1905 (Corning 98; Portrait and Biographical Record of the Willamette 53-54; Who’s Who in Oregon 90). []
    12. Zenas Ferry Moody (1832-1917): born Granby, Massachusetts; came to Oregon via  Panama, 1851; married Mary Stephenson, 1853; after brief period in Illinois, established mercantile business at The Dalles, 1862; surveyor; transportation business (leading shipper of eastern Oregon wool); Speaker, Oregon House of Representatives, 1880-82; Governor, 1883-87; Republican (Corning 169; Portrait and Biographical Record of the Willamette 376-81; Who was Who 857). []
    13. New Northwest substitutes “United States” []
    14. New Northwest: “Pacific Northwest.” Stephen Johnson Field (1816-1899): jurist; born Haddam, Connecticut; valedictorian, Williams College, 1833-37; entered legal study, 1838; admitted to New York bar, 1841, where he practiced until 1848; moved to Marysville, in California gold fields, 1849; elected to state legislature, 1850; elected to state supreme court, 1857; married Virginia Swearingen, 1859; confirmed to new U.S. Supreme Court justiceship and attendant ninth circuit judgeship, 1863 (Lincoln’s final appointee); “few more convinced doctrinaires in constitutional exegesis have ever sat on the supreme bench”; retired, 1897; authored 1,042 opinions, 620 on Supreme Court; Democrat (Corwin). []

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