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Oregon Women’s Suffrage Centennial

As the November 2012 Presidential election draws near, American voters are faced with many issues to deliberate and decisions to be made. Precisely 100 years ago, only American men were allowed to cast their votes for the next president. While women across the country would have to wait until 1921 to be considered eligible voters in national elections, women in Oregon were granted equal suffrage in state elections in November 1912, making this year’s election the Oregon women’s suffrage centennial.

Newspaper clipping features a photograph of two women in an automobile with text that reads, "Off to get votes for women!"

The Evening herald. (Klamath Falls, Or.) May 27, 1916, PAGE FOUR, Image 4. http://tinyurl.com/boez4ug

The campaign for women’s suffrage in Oregon began as early as 1870, and the issue was raised on the Oregon ballot six times (1884, 1900, 1906, 1908, 1910, and 1912), more than any other state (Jensen). The most prominent leader of the Oregon suffrage movement  was Abigail Scott Duniway (1834-1915), best known for her suffragist newspaper, The New Northwest, published in Portland, Oregon from 1871-1887.

Clipping from The New Northwest newspaper reads: "The New Northwest: Published in Portland, Oregon. Free Speech, free press, free people. A journal for the people. Devoted to the interests of Humanity. Independent in politics and religion. Alive to all issues, and thouroughly radical in opposing and exposing the wrongs of the masses. The New Northwest is not a woman's rights, but a human rights organ, devoted to whatever policy may be necessary to secure the greatest good to the greatest number. It knows no sex, no politics, no religion, no party, no color, no creed. Its foundation is, Universal Emancipation, Eternal Liberty, Untrammeled Progression."

The new Northwest. (Portland, Or.) April 12, 1872, Image 5. http://tinyurl.com/d3cz7u2

Duniway was born in Illinois and came to Oregon via the Oregon Trail with her family in 1852. After the long journey, she and her husband settled on a farm in Albany where she opened a millinery shop. As a female business owner, Duniway was frustrated that she was required to pay taxes, yet she was not allowed to vote. Additionally, she heard stories of abuse and disenfranchisement from many other women, and she decided to start campaigning for equal suffrage. Duniway moved her family to Portland in 1871, where she began to publish The New Northwest, advocating for women’s rights, human and workers’ rights, and equal suffrage.

Newspaper clipping reads: "Use the press for suffrage. Advice is given on how to get their ideas before the public. Initiative is discussed. Women debate problems of economic and political interest with a surprising grasp of subjects discussed."

The Sunday Oregonian. (Portland, Ore.) July 02, 1905, Page 10, Image 10. http://tinyurl.com/cfowncv

Duniway’s brother, Harvey Scott, was also in the newspaper industry, although he did no favors for his sister. Scott was the editor of the Portland Oregonian from 1866 to 1872, and he generally opposed Duniway’s stance on political, economic, and social issues. The siblings would argue back and forth through their respective newspapers, thus influencing their subscribers either for or against equal suffrage. If it had not been for Scott’s far-reaching editorials in the Oregonian, the issue of women’s suffrage in Oregon might have passed long before 1912.

A newspaper clipping from The New Northwest reads: The "Oregonian's" Views. The Oregonian, in a well written article, comes boldly out for Woman Suffrage. Bravo! While not agreeing with that journal in regard to the influence it will exert in politics, we are glad it acknowledges the abstract right of women to a voice in the Government. A correspondent of that paper attempts a reply, bringing forward the stale statement that politics will degrade women, but is effectually answered by the argument that if the corruption of politics requires the disenfranchisement of women to keep them honest and pure, the disenfranchisement of men should be demanded to also keep them uncontaminated. The cause is marching on. Who comes next?"

The new Northwest. (Portland, Or.) September 22, 1871, Image 2. http://tinyurl.com/cfoogj7

After years of persistent lobbying and rallying support for equal suffrage across the state and all over the Pacific Northwest, Duniway finally saw her dream become reality. On November 5, 1912, the men of Oregon voted 52% in favor of granting Oregon women the right to vote. At the age of 78, Duniway authored and signed Oregon’s Equal Suffrage Proclamation on November 30, 1912, and she has since been known as “Oregon’s Mother of Equal Suffrage.”

Newspaper article reads: "Equal Suffrage Effective Soon. Governor West said that when the time comes to issue the proclamation declaring women's suffrage in effect in Oregon he will go to Portland to the home of Mrs. Abigail Scott Duniway, requesting her to write out the proclamation in her own handwriting and he will sign it says a Salem dispatch to the Oregonian. The proclamation will thus become a part of the archives of the state in the handwriting of the pioneer women suffrage leader of the state. The law requires that within 30 days after the election, or as soon before that as possible, the Secretary of State shall canvass the votes on the measures in the presence of the Governor and the executive shall forthwith issue proclamations declaring such laws in effect. The Governor said that he intends to hurry the issuance of the proclamation as much as possible that the women may have an opportunity to vote on what city elections are held in the state this year."

Lake County examiner. (Lakeview, Lake County, Or.) November 21, 1912, Image 7. http://tinyurl.com/c2zbwjn

As we cast our votes this year, let us remember that Duniway  and countless women in Oregon, the Pacific Northwest, and across the United States campaigned tirelessly to achieve the equal voting rights that we enjoy today.

Newspaper clipping reads: "Fifty Years of Work. First convention held in 1848. Susan B. Anthony issued call for first convention. In five states equal suffrage has been submitted to voters. Colorado defeated it in 1871. Colorado voters passed it in 1893. In Washington, 1889, the adverse majority was 19,386; in 1898 it dropped to 2882. In South Dakota in 1893 suffrage was defeated by only 3285 votes. In Oregon in 1884 there were 11,223 votes for and 28,176 against it. In Oregon in 1900 there were 28,298 against and 26, 263 for it. Gains have been shown where the question has been put to the voters more than once."

The Sunday Oregonian. (Portland, Ore.) March 26, 1905, PART THREE, Page 32, Image 32. http://tinyurl.com/czqjlyk

Works cited:

Jensen, Kimberly. “Woman Suffrage in Oregon.” The Oregon Encyclopedia. Oregon History and Culture. Portland State University. 2008-2012.

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