Duniway, Abigail Scott (1834-1915)

  • By Margaret Riddle
  • Posted 8/10/2008
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8720

Oregon suffragist Abigail Jane Scott Duniway was a nationally known pioneer leader for women's suffrage who worked regionally in what became the states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Born on an Illinois farm, she traveled the Oregon Trail with her family in 1853 and when married, experienced the hard life as a rancher's wife. The mother of six children, Duniway was a persuasive speaker and prolific writer, authoring 22 novels that she serialized in the newspaper she founded and edited, the New Northwest, begun in 1871. That year Duniway convinced Susan B. Anthony to accompany her on a 2,400-mile speaking and organizing tour through Oregon and Washington. The two later helped establish the Washington Equal Suffrage Association (WESA). Duniway advocated persuasion and non-confrontational tactics to further the cause of women's suffrage. She was an important figure in the passage of Idaho's women suffrage bill in 1896 and a supportive voice for Washington state's win in 1910. But she struggled in her own state of Oregon, where victory did not come until 1912, following five ballot defeats. In her autobiography, Pathbreaking, published in 1914, Duniway tells the story of her 40 years of service in the struggle for women's rights. She died in Portland, Oregon in 1915 at the age of 81.

Farm Girl to Ranch Wife

Abigail Jane Scott was born October 22, 1834, on a farm in Tazewell County near Groveland, Illinois, the third of 12 children born to John Tucker Scott and Ann Roelofson Scott. In 1852 -- when Abigail was 17 -- the family made the grueling trek by oxen cart to Oregon country and Abigail was chosen by her father to keep a diary of their trip. Both her mother and youngest brother died on the Oregon Trail, possibly of cholera which reached epidemic levels that year. Abigail's diaries reflect both the joys and sorrows experienced on the trip and she was soon to draw from these writings as substance for her first novel, Captain Gray's Company, or Crossing the Plains and Living in Oregon, published in 1859.

The Scotts settled in Cincinnati (Eola) Oregon and Abigail worked as a self-taught teacher. In 1853 she married Benjamin Charles Duniway, "a sober and provident husband" as Abigail called him (Duniway, New Citizen). The couple began the hard life of ranching in pioneer country. Six children -- a daughter and five sons -- each born less than two years apart, completed the family: Clara, Willis, Hubert, Wilkie, Clyde, and Ralph. As Abigail wrote in 1911:

"The making of new farms in the brush and timber in a pioneer community, away from civilization, though hard upon the men in building cabins, fences, barns and bridges, is doubly trying for the women folks who, with babes in arms, are never able to mobilize as men do at their hog killings, log rollings, political gatherings, barn raisings, bridge building, etc., but must remain in solitude, a prey to their own thoughts, their chief diversion, aside from the blessed companionship of their many little ones, being the extra labor that devolves upon them to provide the meals for the men's frolics and labors that bring them together for the purposes just specified" (Duniway, New Citizen).

A ranch woman's chores often extended to nursing sick neighbors where, in Duniway's description, the women did most of the work while a physician, usually male, pocketed the payment. Women confided in Abigail, often telling of their intense hardships and Abigail kept notes. While never divulging their names, she later used them as characters in her novels.

"I suppose I might as well say here, as anywhere, that I would doubtless long ago have been dead because of the hardship of the rancher if my good husband had not met with a serious accident with a runaway team, which followed closely on the heels of a heavy security debt he had incurred against my protest" (Duniway, New Citizen).

The Duniways lost their ranch and Abigail became the family breadwinner. Turning first to teaching, she opened a private school in the village of La Fayette. The school was unsuccessful so she opened their family home to women boarders. The Duniways later moved to Albany and Abigail again tried teaching and then became a milliner, work that provided six years of income. During this time, and while also raising her children, she wrote her first novel Captain Gray's Company, or Crossing the Plains and Living in Oregon, published in 1859, based on her Oregon Trail diary. The novel gave her notoriety.

The New Northwest

Abigail's involvement in the organized movement of women's suffrage dates to 1870 and it is possible that this is why she and the Duniways moved to Portland the following year, Abigail joined the small but active women's rights group in that city. The group evolved into the Oregon State Equal Suffrage Association and Abigail would serve as its president for many years. Duniway decided to use her writing skills to support the suffrage cause, bought a printing office in Portland in 1871 and began the New Northwest, a weekly newspaper that covered women's issues, including suffrage. The newspaper continued for 16 years under her editorship.

Thus also began Abigail's partnership with Susan B. Anthony, vice president of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Abigail soon carved out her own territory of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, a New Northwest where people were liberal and prosperous and open to the idea of women's suffrage. Abigail traveled throughout this territory and gained the reputation for being a great lecturer.

When Susan B. Anthony spoke to the Washington Territorial Legislature in October 1871, Abigail was there to make her acquaintance. Anthony had come to speak in favor of a suffrage bill that had been introduced to the legislature but, despite Anthony's support, the bill failed. Duniway convinced Anthony to travel with her on a 2,400-mile two-month lecture tour of Oregon and Washington. Although the trip was successful in building support for suffrage, it was physically difficult, the pair traveling by "jouncing coaches or dirty, crawling trains" in rainy weather (Farthest Frontier, 101). Abigail wrote of their journey, "the winter rains were deluging the earth. The stage carrying us from Olympia to the Columbia River at Kalama, led us through the blackness of darkness in the night time, giving Miss Anthony a taste of pioneering under difficulties that remained with her as a memory to her dying day" (Duniway, Farthest Frontier).

Strategies and Difficulties

Abigail Scott Duniway kept her distance from the temperance movement, strongly believing that their zealotry was bad for the suffrage cause. She was particularly effective in Idaho where she spoke on this issue July 16, 1889, to the state's constitutional convention in Boise. Her analysis of the prohibition problem and suffrage resulted in solid backing of many leading state officials and business men to place a suffrage issue on the ballot. When the Oregon State Constitutional Convention met in Boise in 1889, Abigail received a message from Idaho suffragists: "The Women's Christian Temperance Union is spoiling everything. They have arranged for a hearing before the convention in advance of ours, asking for a clause in the new Constitution to prohibit the liquor traffic. They won't get it, of course, but they will prohibit us from getting a Woman Suffrage plank, if you don't come" (Farthest Frontier, 102).

Duniway held to the "still hunt" approach that advocated non-confrontation as the best approach for gaining women's suffrage and she also felt that the issue needed to be directed to men, since they were the voters and held the power. The way to convince them was through gentle persuasion and humor. In Abigail's words, "Women can't enfranchise women. They may lead a man to the ballot booth but they can't make him vote for us after we get him there. If we are too insistent they are likely to get stubborn and the advantage is all on their side. Men like to be coaxed. They will not be driven" (Duniway, New Citizen). Duniway's speeches were often accompanied by songs she had written, sung to popular tunes of the day by her daughter Clara.

Parades, mass rallies and promotional tactics were too sensational, she felt, and would not help win the cause. Duniway was also convinced that grassroots, local suffrage clubs were of little value, placing instead greater importance on good speaking and influence from national and regional leaders. This began putting her at odds with younger women in the suffrage movement.

Although Abigail Scott Duniway was undoubtedly a powerful speaker and an effective writer, she lacked organizational skills and preferred to lead with a strong hand. While she and Susan B. Anthony remained lifetime friends, their strong-spirited approaches and tactics often put them at odds. When NAWSA deferred to Duniway's leadership during the 1900 Oregon suffrage campaign -- another failed attempt -- Anthony declared the defeat predictable stating "Duniway's head is so full of crotchets that it is impossible for her to cooperate with anybody, she must simply control" (Edwards).

No doubt Abigail Scott Duniway was a suffrage pathbreaker, laying the foundation for women's suffrage in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, but it took the efforts and new strategies of younger leaders such as Emma Smith DeVoe (1848-1927) and May Arkwright Hutton (1860-1915) to finalize its passage. Duniway is considered an important figure in the success of Idaho women's suffrage bill in 1896 and was a strong and supportive voice for the 1910 win in Washington state. But, in her own home state of Oregon, she faced repeated defeats -- 1884, 1900, 1906, 1908, and 1910 -- before final passage in 1912. Some faulted Abigail for the many defeats but she blamed them on her brother Harvey W. Scott, editor of the influential newspaper Oregonian, which had strongly and consistently opposed the suffrage cause.

In 1912 Abigail Scott Duniway joined the editorial staff as Oregon Editor of the New Citizen (originally Votes For Women, the official organ of the Washington state suffrage movement) and contributed writings about her early life. In her autobiography Pathbreaking, published in 1914, Abigail Scott Duniway left an account of her 40-year struggle for women's rights. She died on October 11, 1915, and is buried in River View Cemetery in Portland.

A-Voting We Will Go, A-Ho

Here are the lyrics to a song written by Abigail Scott Duniway. They are taken from a flyer titled "Miss Anthony's Lecture: The Evenings Exercises will open and close with the following songs, by Miss Clara Duniway"("Closing Campaign Song"):

Closing Campaign Song
Words by Mrs. A. J. Duniway
Air -- "Ten Thousand Miles Away"

Hail to the brightly dawning day
Where the glorious Ship of State,
With men and women all embarked
To meet their coming fate,
Shall navigate the ship, my friends,
Where politicians play,
For they've taken a trip in the Government ship
And sadly gone astray.

Then blow ye winds a-ho -- a voting we will go;
We'll stay no more on the barren shore,
But hand in hand with brothers band,
We'll guide the Ship of State
Across the raging main
Of Governmental seas, my friends,
To meet our coming fate.

Good-bye, good-bye to whisky rings;
Good-bye to Government broils;
No more shall men with vote and pen
Appropriate the spoils;
For we'll navigate the Ship of State
Beside our brothers dear,
And when the breakers round us dash
We'll shun 'em -- never fear.

Then blow ye winds, etc.

Good-by, good-bye to servile work
Where wages are not known;
John Chinaman is here to wash
And sew your buttons on.
He'll cook your beefsteak too, my boys,
And darn your stockings well,
While we, like you, will legislate
And trade and buy and sell.

Then blow ye winds, etc.

We'll keep the fire-side too, my boys,
And read your musty tomes;
We'll use the money that we earn
To beautify your homes;
We'll use the wisdom we acquire
To legislate for good;
We know that with our cause you'll stand
When we are understood.

Then blow ye winds, etc.

Duniway's Novels
(adapted from a list by Debra Shein)

Captain Gray's Company, or Crossing the Plains and Living in Oregon (Portland: S. J. McCormick, 1859). Later serialized in the New Northwest May 21, 1875-October 29,  1875.

Judith Reid, A Plain Story of a Plain Woman, serialized in the New Northwest, May 12, 1871-December 22, 1871.

Ellen Dowd, the Farmer's Wife, serialized in the New Northwest, Part one, January 5, 1872-April 1872.

Amie and Henry Lee, or The Spheres of the Sexes, serialized in the New Northwest 29 May 29, 1874- November 13, 1874.

The Happy Home, or the Husband's Triumph, serialized in the New Northwest, November 20, 1874-May 14, 1875.

One Woman's Sphere, or The Mystery of Eagle Cove, serialized in the New Northwest June 4, 1875-December 3, 1875.

Madge Morrison, the Molalla Maid and Matron, serialized in the New Northwest, December 10, 1875-June 15, 1877.

Edna and John, A Romance of Idaho Flat, serialized in the New Northwest, September 29, 1875-June 15, 1877.

Martha Marblehead, The Maid and Matron of Chehalem, serialized in the New Northwest, June 29, 1877-February 8, 1878.

Her Lot, or How She was Protected (later refused as "Ethel Graeme's Destiny"), serialized in the New Northwest, February 1, 1878-September 19, 1878

Fact, Fate and Fancy, or More Ways of Living than One, serialized in the New Northwest,  September 26, 1878-May 15, 1879.

Mrs. Hardine's Will, serialized in the New Northwest, November 20, 1879-August 26,  1880.

The Mystery of Castle Rock, a Story of the Pacific Northwest, serialized in the New Northwest, March 2, 1882-September 7, 1882.

Judge Dunson's Secret, An Oregon Story, serialized in the New Northwest, March 15, 1883-September 6, 1883.

Laban McShane, A Frontier Story, serialized in the New Northwest, September 13, 1883-March 6, 1884.

Dux, A Maiden Who Dared, serialized in the New Northwest, September 11, 1884-March 5,  1885.

The De Launcy Curse, or The Law of Heredity: A Tale of Three Generations, serialized in the New Northwest September 10, 1885-March 4, 1886.

Blanche Le Clerq: A Tale of the Mountain Mines, serialized in the New Northwest, September 2, 1886-February 24, 1887.

Shack-Locks: A Story of the Times, serialized in the New Northwest, October 3, 1895-March 26, 1896.

'Bijah's Surprises (revised 1914 as "Margaret Rudson: a Pioneer Story"), serialized in the New Northwest, April 2, 1896-September 26, 1896.

The Old and the New, serialized in The Pacific Empire January 7, 1897-December 30, 1897.

From the West to the West (a revised version of Captain Gray's Company, Chicago: McClurg, 1905).

Sources: Abigail Scott Duniway, "Interesting Sketch of the Early Life of Abigail Duniway, The New Citizen, Vol. 2, No. 16, p. 9; Abigail Scott Duniway, "Interesting Sketch of the Early Life of Abigail Duniway (continued), Ibid., Vol. 2, No. 18, January 1912; Abigail Scott Duniway, "Yours for Liberty": selections from Abigail Scott Duniway's suffrage newspaper, (Corvalis: Oregon State University Press, 2000); Mary Osborne Douthit, The Souvenir of Western Women (Portland: Presses of Anderson & Duniway Co., 1905); Abigail Scott Duniway, Path Breaking: An Autobiographical History of the Equal Suffrage Movement in Pacific Coast States (Portland: James, Kerns and Abbott Company, 1914); T. A. Larson, "The Woman Suffrage Movement in Washington," Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol. 67, No. 2 (April 1976); Ruth Barnes Moynihan, Rebel for Rights: Abigail Scott Duniway (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983);  History of Portland, Oregon: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers (Syracuse, N.Y: D. Mason & Co., 1890), 422; Clinton Kelly and Ben B. Lindsey, "Abigail Scott Duniway," Portland, the Rose City: pictorial and biographical (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1911), 456-458; "Closing Campaign Song" in Debra Shein, "The Novels of Abigail Scott Duniway," 2006, in "Oregon Experience: Abigail Scott Duniway/ "Perspectives: Conflicts with Eastern Suffragists," Oregon Public Radio website accessed July 15-31, 2008 (www.opb.org/oregonexperience/duniway/); "Abigail Scott Duniway," Women of the West Museum online accessed July 27, 2008 (http://www.museumoftheamericanwest.org/explore/exhibits/suffrage/abigail3_full.html); "Notable Oregonians: Abigail Scott Duniway, Women's Rights Pioneer," Oregon Bluebook website accessed July 28, 2008 (http://bluebook.state.or.us/notable/notduniway.htm); Historylink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Women Suffrage Crusade, 1848-1920" (by Mildred Andrews), "Susan B. Anthony helps found Washington Woman Suffrage Association on October 1, 1871" (by Mildred Andrews), "DeVoe, Emma Smith (1848-1927)" (by Laura Arksey), http://www.historylink.org, accessed July 15-29, 2008.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You