Marching to Victory! The Briefest History of Women’s Suffrage in Oregon

By Jeannette Butts ::

Abigail Scott Duniway voting in Oregon in 1912 – Oregon Historical Society.

On April 4, 1906, a conference about women’s suffrage was held in Portland with speakers from around the state which featured suffragist Abigail Scott Duniway. Duniway is considered the “Mother of Equal Suffrage” and “the pioneer Woman Suffragist of the great Northwest.”

In 1850, an act passed in Oregon which allowed married women, not just those who are single and widowed, to own land in their own names. This was a step—a slow step—but a step in the right direction nonetheless for gender equality. In 1871, Duniway began publishing a weekly newspaper The New Northwest, in Portland, making her the first woman publisher in Oregon. The New Northwest was successfully printed for sixteen years.

Also in 1871, Susan B. Anthony came to the Northwest and toured the region with Mrs. Duniway. In 1884, women’s suffrage was on the Oregon ballot for the first time ever. Unfortunately, only 28% voted for the measure. A woman’s right to vote in Oregon was defeated five more times before finally passing in 1912.

At the Portland’s Suffrage Conference, activists from across Oregon and the Northwest came to talk at the White Temple in Portland on April 4th and 5th. One of the leading speakers at the conference, Abigail Duniway was a voice of reason for women everywhere and she believed strongly in a woman’s right to self govern. She was a prolific and diverse writer—she penned speeches and articles, wrote several books, including twenty-two novels, an autobiography, a book of poems, and the lyrics to a woman suffrage hymn. She hosted lectures, held rallies, helped write measures, encouraged all-gender participation, and got stuff done! She was also the first woman to speak before the Oregon state legislature where she stated: “Gentlemen of the Committee: do you think it possible that an agitation like this can go on and on forever without a victory?”

The Marching to Victory Conference was a huge success and many women and men attended. Some of the speeches gives at the conference were titled, “Women in Organization,” “Women and the Municipality,” and Duniway’s speech was aptly called “Marching to Victory” where she said these moving words: “Equal suffrage is marching toward victory just as surely as the light which leaves the sun and travels toward the earth will reach the human eye.”

Duniway and the Marching to Victory Conference both played major roles in the movement towards gender equality in Oregon. May we always remember Duniway and her more than forty year fight for women’s rights.

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Music used

Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Feasting on the Flowers”
Billie Holiday, “Ain’t Misbehavin’”
Sister Suffragette” from Mary Poppins

Jeannette Butts: Project Manager
Jazmine Kelly: Voice of Abigail Duniway, Editor