Oregon's "Mother of Suffrage"

By Cathy Ingalls Albany Regional Museum Board Member

2011.088.017 Abigail Scott Duniway.jpg

Abigail Scott Duniway, considered to be Oregon’s “mother of suffrage,” spent about six years in Albany, where she was the family’s primary breadwinner because of an injury that left her husband unable to work.

Duniway and her family moved to Albany, some records say in 1865 while others state 1866, living in a house on the west side of Calapooia Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues. She had a job teaching in a private school for a few months before joining up with a Mrs. Jackson to open a millinery shop at the southwest corner of First and Broadalbin streets.

Albany author Edward Loy refers in his book “Gem of the Willamette Valley” to a story about the new store that appeared in the Nov. 17, 1866, States Rights Democrat:

“It is with pleasure that we call the attention of our lady readers to the card of Mrs. Jackson & Mrs. Duniway….Mrs. Jackson has just returned from San Francisco with a fine assortment of the latest styles of fashionable millinery goods.

“These ladies solicit a liberal share of patronage from the fair denizens of Albany and the surrounding country without regard to politics or religion, assuring all that they will be served with goods in excellent style and at the most moderate prices.”

The women according to Loy sold hats, bonnets, gloves, cloaks, lace ribbons and hose, and they altered, bleached and pressed on short notice.

About a year after opening the business, Duniway bought Jackson out. While working in Albany it is reported that Duniway heard many stories concerning injustices toward women and their mistreatment by spouses.

Angered and now wanting to improve the lives of women, Duniway’s husband Ben encouraged a move to Portland in 1871, where Abigail found “The New Northwest,” a weekly newspaper devoted to women’s rights and the passage of woman suffrage.

The newspaper continued for 16 years with the motto “Free Speech, Free Press, Free People, ” and her signature line, “Yours for Liberty.”

As a lecturer, organizer, editor and writer, Duniway spent more than 40 years pushing the causes associated with women’s rights, ruffling some feathers along the way.

In Albany, Martin V. Brown, the editor of the Albany Democrat was an opponent of woman suffrage. When Duniway’s politics became known through her newspaper, Brown rarely printed a nice word about her.

Loy says in his book that on Oct 25, 1872, Brown rebuked Duniway after she gave a speech at the courthouse in Albany, writing she “spoke her piece in favor of hen-rooster rights.”

Duniway’s younger brother, Harvey W. Scott, the editor and part owner of The Oregonian, also opposed his sister’s push for suffrage. He thought that women really didn’t want the vote.

Duniway’s persistence in getting women the vote eventually paid off in 1912 when Oregon became the seventh state in the union to pass a women’s suffrage amendment.

Gov. Oswald West asked Duniway to write and sign the equal suffrage proclamation. Duniway was the first woman to register to vote in Multnomah County.

However, she did not live to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which granted suffrage to all women. She died on Oct. 11, 1915, just prior to her 81st birthday. She is buried in River View Cemetery in Portland.

Duniway was originally from Illinois.

Born in 1834, she one of the nine children of John Tucker Scott and Anne Roelofson Scott.

In March 1852, her father organized a party of 30 people and five ox-drawn wagons to travel to Oregon. Duniway’s mother died of cholera near Fort Laramie and her brother Willie, 3, died near Burnt River, OR. The remaining family settled in Lafayette.

Duniway taught school in Eola near Salem and married Benjamin Charles Duniway, a farmer from Illinois, in 1853. They had six children.

Difficult times were ahead for the family after a friend defaulted on a note Benjamin endorsed, and then he became permanently disabled because of an accident involving a runaway team. He died in 1896.

Before Abigail began publishing tracts and newspapers, she wrote and published in 1859 “Captain Gray’s Company: or Crossing the Plains and Living in Oregon.” It was the first novel to be commercially published in Oregon.

She also wrote other publications that drew from her experiences on the Oregon Trail.