Abigail Scott Duniway Exhibit
|Case 1||Oregon: Land of Promise; Abigail Scott Duniway & the Journey West|
|Case 2||Abigail Scott Duniway: Voice of the New Northwest|
Abigail Scott Duniway: Visionary Campaigner for Equal Rights
Declaration of Principles of OSESA (excerpt)
Whatever Happened to Duniway Hall?
The hardships endured on the trail by the Scott party were proverbial. There were deaths from disease, and deaths from drowning. Cholera was epidemic that year, and before they reached Oregon, both Abigail's mother and youngest brother had perished. Abigail Jane ("Jenny" as she was known by family members) had been appointed scribe by her father, and kept a journal of the Scott's migration under his tutelage. It is an often-eloquent diary, filled with joy and wonder at the magnificent landscapes its writer traversed, as well as with heartfelt sorrow.
In 1859, when Duniway was still a young farm wife burdened by infants and never-ceasing household chores a decade before her entry into publishing and politics she penned a fictionalized account of the trip, Captain Gray's Company. This became the first novel to be commercially published in Oregon. It was her first literary work of any length, and was described in a review as "a silly story, comprising the usual quantity of 'yellow covered' love, expressed in bad grammar, and liberally interspersed with slang phrases." Other critics have concurred. And yet, it was a story that the author felt compelled to write, and marks her entry into the larger world beyond that defined by hearthstone and barnyard. Duniway's experiences along the Oregon Trail also surfaced time and again in her many novels serialized in her newspaper, the New Northwest (1871-1887), and received a final treatment in 1905 in another published novel, From the West to the West (i.e., from Illinois to Oregon).
However, to be a pioneer, or "path breaker," meant much more to Duniway than the standard connotations. In her work, the "free, young, elastic West" (and Oregon in particular) would come to represent the land of promise for women, where all could hope to see materialized the kind of freedom that "the women of the older states, crystallized with constitutions hoary with the encrustations of long-vanished years" could only dream of. Duniway longed for Oregon to become "the banner state of the new dispensation" of equal rights for women, and from 1870 on, she would devote her life to making this a reality.
Abigail Scott Duniway's "Journal of a Trip to Oregon" reveals the talent-in-embryo that would later emerge as the editorial voice of the New Northwest. The young Scott sisters, possibly clad in "Bloomer" attire of wide pantaloons and short skirts (quite fashionable on the Oregon Trail in 1852), often raced ahead of the slow-moving ox train to admire the scenery, but were also halted by sorrow when visited by the deaths of those they held most dear.
Abigail thought she was leaving her Illinois home forever, and never imagined how quickly she would be able to retrace her route after the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. The "Journal" has been published in Vol. V of the Covered Wagon Women series.
Abigail Scott Duniway's Captain Gray's Company was the first novel to be commercially published in Oregon. From the West to the West is a later fictionalized rendition of her westward journey. However, along with her many novels reprising the westering experience, Duniway also wrote a number of poems that considered the trip and its significance to her.
Some of these are found in My Musings, a booklet published after her first trip to the East Coast to attend a convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1872. This includes "After Twenty Years," a poem written at the site of her mother's grave near Fort Laramie, in which the author contemplates the remarkable difference between a journey by “iron horse” and one by ox train, and invokes and invokes her mother's spirit to guide her in her fledgling career as an equal rights activist.
Another poem written at the same time, "Oregon: Land of Promise," was published separately in 1907 as a souvenir booklet bearing Duniway's photo and typical signature, "Yours for Liberty." It was written on the train as the author sped west, and the sound of the wheels driving onward over prairie and mountain is echoed in its cadence. Duniway's verses show that, although Oregon was characterized by its "grandeur and beauty," neither its landscape, nor even its commercial potential, was the greatest attraction for those who embarked on the journey west. Rather, the "promise" offered by Oregon was that it provided a home for a newly-nascent liberty for women, a place where their "song could run riot, or fancy go free."
In 1871, Duniway began publishing the New Northwest, a weekly newspaper devoted to promoting, not just suffrage, but an entire agenda of women's issues. At the time the journal commenced publication, married women did not even have the right to ownership of their own wardrobes. Under the mentorship of the far more experienced Susan B. Anthony, who visited the West Coast and traveled through Oregon and Washington with Duniway at this time, the newly established publisher learned the ins and outs of politics, and went on to become a national as well as local leader of the woman's movement.
In addition to writing for the New Northwest, Duniway authored several books, including her autobiography, Path Breaking, and an epic poem, David and Anna Matson. However, the bulk of her literary accomplishments are found in the pages of her newspaper, and in a later publication she edited, The Pacific Empire. The two periodicals contain over twenty of her own novels, as well as countless columns of editorials and news. A distinctive feature was Duniway's "Editorial Correspondence," an ongoing narrative of her travels throughout the Pacific Northwest and across the United States while campaigning for equal rights.
A few rare issues of the New Northwest survive, although complete sets are now available only on microfilm. It contains most of Duniway's serialized novels, which form a vital record of what life in the "old west" was like from the perspective of an ardent feminist. In these narratives, standard conventions are reversed. Strong women rescue their menfolk from trouble, and the law enforcers are generally the villains because they carry out legislation that robs women of their rights. Duniway revised several of the novels originally published in her newspapers for eventual publication in book form. The manuscript of Ethel Graeme's Destiny: A Story of Real Life is a revision of Her Lot; or, How She was Protected, which appeared in the columns of the New Northwest in 1878.
The January 21, 1886, issue of the New Northwest was specially preserved by Duniway because it contains an account of her vigil over the deathbed of her daughter, Clara, who passed away at the age of 31 from tuberculosis, the "plague of the 19th century." Because all of Duniway's other five children were sons, she felt the loss of this lone daughter and eldest child most keenly.
However, the boys (Willis, Hubert, Wilkie, Clyde and Ralph) all worked closely with their mother in the publishing business as they grew to maturity first learning to set type, later writing copy as well and were able to draw on the experience in their later careers. Duniway's second youngest son, Clyde, went on to become a university president. His son, David Duniway, served as Oregon's first State Archivist, and later donated the family papers to the University of Oregon.
Abigail Scott Duniway, hailed as a noted campaigner, writer and editor, was also a vibrant and compelling presence on the lecture platform. She was a featured speaker at local rallies as well as at national suffrage association meetings, and received complimentary reviews of her powers as a public speaker from a wide variety of sources.
One of Duniway's most treasured goals was to achieve suffrage victories in the three states of what she designated as her "chosen bailiwick." These were Oregon, Washington, and Idaho the states that had comprised the old Oregon Country. Despite staunch opposition from some of the most influential men in Oregon, including Abigail's own brother and long-time editor of the Portland Oregonian, Harvey Scott, these victories came to pass. Idahoan women won the vote in 1896, followed by Washingtonians in 1910, and, after a number of early near-wins, Oregonians finally achieved victory in 1912, eight years in advance of the passage of the national amendment.
By the time of Duniway's death in 1915, she had achieved near-legendary status. When the Lewis & Clark Centennial was celebrated in Portland in 1905, it featured an "Abigail Scott Duniway Day," and contemporaries honored her as the quintessential "pioneer mother," as well as the "Mother of Woman Suffrage."
The lives of Abigail Scott Duniway and her relentless, visionary coworkers in the equal suffrage movement served to bridge the gap between the oppressed, often meek-and-mild women of their mothers' generation, and the bold and modern "New Woman" of the turn of the twentieth century. Fueled by their wrath at a government that classed all women with "idiots, insane persons and criminals" in denying them the vote, women like Duniway dared to break the mold and fight for their rights. Their contributions should not be forgotten, nor underrated. At the time Abigail began her career, women's civil disabilities extended far beyond the mere lack of the vote. The situation was unbearable for single women, but even crueler for women who were married. Married women had no legal existence apart from their husbands. They could not sign contracts, had no title to their own earnings, no right to property, nor any claim to their children in case of separation or divorce.
But because the beginnings of the woman's movement are shrouded by the suffrage issue, the fact that women's civil disabilities were ever this extensive is obscured. And thus, we do not properly credit the enormous struggle undertaken by leaders in the vanguard of the movement including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Abigail Scott Duniway. By 1912, when Oregon issued its Equal Suffrage Proclamation, Duniway had spent over forty years directing her efforts towards alleviating a wide variety of the ills that plagued women. She demanded the right to engage in any and all occupations, the right to receive equal pay for equal work, and the right to live free from abuse.
In 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, and women across the nation had won the right to vote. However, this was only a partial victory. After this momentous event, the women's rights movement lost steam and was not revived in force until the 1960s. Because of this, nearly a century later we are still confronting many of the same inequities that Duniway strove to eradicate. Women in other parts of the globe fare much worse. In remembering Abigail Scott Duniway, we remember her triumphs, but also the tasks left uncompleted. As we enter the 21st century, we must remain united in our efforts to fulfill Oregon's role as a "Land of Promise," and wipe out such inequities for good.
We believe in the inherent right of self-government for every law-abiding
citizen and we are seeking freedom for ourselves that we may become your
legal coadjutors in the formation of a government of all the people. The
mother half of all the people is rated in law with idiots, insane persons and
criminals, from whose legal classification we are looking to you to release
us, your wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and sweethearts, at the June
election of 1908, thus leaving us free to choose for ourselves at every
succeeding election as to whether or not we shall avail ourselves of the
opportunities to which we know it is your duty, and ought to be your pride,
to extend to us of your own volition, without waiting for the initiative to
come from us.
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Last revision: 6/10/06 by N. Helmer