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Wild Women Of The West: Abigail Scott Duniway

The mother of equal suffrage in Oregon...

March 03, 2020

Abigail Scott Duniway is recognized as the “mother of equal suffrage in Oregon.” She was born in Illinois on October 22, 1834.

The Scott family moved to Oregon in 1852 and Abigail taught school at Polk County Village.  It was there she met her husband, Ben C. Duniway, a young farmer and stockman in Clackamas County. In the early 1860s, an accident befell Mr. Duniway and it was necessary to move from the farm. Mrs. Duniway returned to teaching. After three years the family relocated to Albany. Abigail taught school there for a year then opened a millinery store there.

It was in 1859 that Mrs. Duniway first came into prominence through the publication of a book entitled Captain Gray’s Company or Crossing the Plains and Living in Oregon. In the spring of 1871, she moved to Portland, bought a printing office, and started a weekly publication, the New Northwest, which at once attracted many readers.

Early on she espoused the doctrine of equal suffrage, and her advocacy of political rights for women met with unexpected favor in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Her address before the Constitutional Convention at Boise, Idaho, July 16, 1889, was a notable effort. Her talk resulted in securing a pledge from state officials and businessmen of Idaho to submit the question of equal suffrage to a vote at the first election following the territory’s admission to statehood.

Upon the occasion of the celebration of Oregon’s fortieth year of admission to statehood, held in the House of Representatives in Salem, February 14, 1899, when the joint assembly of the legislature and a large audience gathered, Mrs. Duniway was given the valedictory, or place of honor on the program.

One of the greatest speeches on the progress of all women toward equal political rights was made at the unveiling of the statue of Sacajawea at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in the summer of 1905. This was followed by the extending of an invitation to her by the late H. W. Goode, president of the exposition, to accept the date of October 6 as Abigail Scott Duniway Day at the fair. This was the first reception of its kind ever tendered to any woman, aside from royalty, by the official head of any international exposition.

In early January 1910, Mrs. Duniway was made a duly accredited delegate by Oregon’s Governor Benson in Washington, D.C. There she made a strong plea for equal political rights and was accorded much consideration by distinguished men in attendance.

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