In 1912 Oregon women won the right to vote. It would be another eight years before the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteed that right to all women across the country.
Beginning in 1871, the weekly newspaper, The New Northwest, was a platform for suffrage and equal rights for Oregon women. It would grow to be one of the largest and most widely read suffrage newspapers on the West Coast.
The New Northwest, and other local newspapers of the era, can be read on microfilm at the Oregon Historical Society, and other libraries across the region. The newspapers are a fascinating firsthand account of the historic struggle for the vote.
Beginning in fall 2010, Oregon Experience volunteer and history student Jill Jackson began compiling a sampling of historic newspaper articles, advertisements and images that represented the people and events leading up to 1912. The collected materials are listed below, providing access to primary source materials related to this landmark event in Oregon’s history.
1) May 5, 1871, The New Northwest – “About Ourself”, Abigail Scott Duniway
Abigail Scott Duniway released the first issue of The New Northwest out of Portland. In the next 16 years of the paper’s weekly publication, Duniway provided news from the campaign front to women all across Oregon and the Western Territories. In this piece from the first issue, Duniway describes the unique struggles faced by Western women, and expresses her hopes for the paper.
2) June 23, 1871, The New Northwest – “Letter From Mrs. Admiral Dahlgren” opposing woman’s suffrage
The New Northwest was a platform for women’s voices, urban and rural, throughout the Pacific Northwest. In this letter to the editor from 1871, Mrs. Dahlgren contests Duniway’s campaigning for woman’s suffrage, arguing that “Women need educational and industrial, not political advancement.” The rising equal suffrage movement was met with a strong anti-suffrage campaign, reaching its height in the 1880s-1910s.
3) September 16, 1871, Morning Oregonian – “Woman Suffrage”, Harvey Scott
Harvey Scott, editor of the Oregonian 1865-1872 and 1877-1910, published numerous opinion pieces opposing woman’s suffrage. However, his sister was Abigail Scott Duniway, making his position on suffrage all the more interesting. In this editorial from 1871, Scott does not take an explicitly anti-suffrage stance, but is careful to note that equal suffrage won’t cure gendered social problems. He writes, “When women vote; therefore, we shall not expect to see an end of fraud, corruption, vice and injustice.”
4) February 9, 1872, The New Northwest – “The ‘Statesman’ Winceth”, Abigail Scott Duniway
In the 1870s, The Statesman was an anti-suffrage publication. Samuel A. Clarke wrote a series of editorials casting disparaging remarks towards Abigail Scott Duniway and The New Northwest. Duniway responded to these editorials in her paper, which in turn elicited more editorials from Clarke. In this article, Duniway responds to accusations that her egoism and greed has cast a shadow on the woman’s rights movement.
5) November 8, 1872, The New Northwest – “The Votes of the Ladies”, Abigail Scott Duniway
The ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment marked a triumph in the extension of voting rights in America. It ensured that states could not deny a citizen suffrage based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” However, the Fifteenth Amendment did not grant women the right to vote. Despite this setback, women across the nation pushed the amendment’s extension of rights by casting ballots in the presidential election of 1872. Susan B. Anthony was jailed for her attempt. Oregon women also participated. When Abigail Scott Duniway, Maria Hendee, Mrs. M.A. Lambert, and Mary Beatty handed in their ballots in Portland, the judge received them, but placed them under rather than inside of the ballot box. Duniway recounts the event in this New Northwest article
6) February 7, 1873, The New Northwest – “When Women Vote”, John A. Womack
The New Northwest was a platform for women suffragists throughout the Western United States, but men were also contributors. In this article titled “When Women Vote,” John A. Womack shares his equal suffrage stance, and argues that when women have the vote, “society will be cemented more firmly and the social fabric will be more thoroughly interwoven with love, law and order.”
7) February 27, 1874, The New Northwest – “1774-1874. – Woman’s Status Then and Now”, Olive E. M’Cord
In this excerpt from the New Northwest, Olive E. M’Cord recounts history as she makes an appeal for woman’s suffrage. She recounts the heroism and support women displayed to help win the Revolutionary War. Her argument is particularly compelling: if both men and women fought for freedom from “taxation without representation,” shouldn’t both sexes now have representation?
8 ) October 9, 1874, The New Northwest – “Woman Suffrage in the Oregon Legislature”, Abigail Scott Duniway
In October of 1874, an amendment that would grant women the right to vote was brought to the floor of the Oregon legislature. In this excerpt from the New Northwest, Abigail Scott Duniway describes the scene and observes that opponents were “ruled by prejudice and selfishness.” Although the amendment did not pass, Duniway remains hopeful in the article. The amendment was put to voters later that year and was also rejected.
9) July 1, 1905 – National American Woman Suffrage Convention Courtesy: Oregon Historical Society (OrHi 59438)
The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) Convention was held in Portland summer of 1905. In attendance were nationally acclaimed suffragists Susan B. Anthony, Alice S. Blackwell, Abigail Scott Duniway, Carrie Chapman Catt, Kate Gordon, and Anna Shaw. This photo was taken in front of the Oregon building on the grounds of the Lewis and Clark Exposition. The delegates attended a reception in honor of Susan B. Anthony.
10) August 8, 1906, Oregonian – “Prohis All Nurse ‘Hurt’ Feelings”
When Abigail Scott Duniway first moved to Portland, she was active with the Oregon State Temperance Alliance. But by the 1906 election, Duniway was no longer a temperance advocate and actually worked to separate the movement from the woman’s suffrage campaign. This Oregonian article describes the contention between Duniway and temperance workers after the Equal Suffrage Amendment did not pass in the 1906 election. While Duniway blamed the involvement of temperance workers in the failure of the campaign, the workers argued that they actually helped the campaign, earning more votes and making the loss less dramatic.
11) 1909 Anti-woman’s suffrage cartoon – Courtesy: Oregon Historical Society; (OHS Mss 1534)
Throughout the campaign, suffragists had to contend with a powerful anti-suffrage movement. The opposition deployed mass advertising campaigns, such as this cartoon from 1909. The image depicts a man left to tend for the children as his wife leaves the home for the public political sphere. This cartoon, like most anti-suffragist arguments, actually took issue with burgeoning feminism rather than merely votes for women.
12) May 28, 1912, East Oregonian – Political Equality League meets in Pendleton
Pro-suffrage politics was not limited to urban centers in the Pacific Northwest. Rural communities also formed equal suffrage organizations and campaigned across the state. This article from the East Oregonian reports on a meeting of the Political Equality League in Pendleton. The event was well attended and engaging, and featured a “question box” where community members could ask questions concerning woman’s suffrage. The paper considered the meeting a great success: “All the questions were fully discussed with much interest and profit. The parlor meetings promise to add much to the social pleasures during the summer and fall.”
13) August 30, 1912, Blue Mountain Eagle – “Why Women Should Vote”
Suffragists campaigned for equal voting rights statewide. This article illustrates an instance of pro-suffrage campaigning in the rural town of John Day, Oregon. The article is an advertisement paid for by the Canyon City Equal Suffrage Club.
14) October 9, 1912, East Oregonian – “Suffrage Banquet Is Success”
In October of 1912, suffragists in Eastern Oregon met at the Hotel Pendleton for a banquet given by the Political Equity League. The event was so widely attended, the hall was filled beyond capacity and many individuals had to be turned away at the door. As the East Oregonian reports, tensions within the suffrage movement concerning temperance were as strong here as they were in Portland. One of the speakers at the event, Rev. Nathan Evans, “laid particular stress on the fact that prohibitionists were the first to endorse equal suffrage…and urged the women not to forget their first love.”
15) October 21, 1912, Oregonian – Pro-woman’s suffrage cartoon
In the 1900s, the woman’s suffrage movement changed gears. The first generation of suffragists headed by Abigail Scott Duniway gave way to a campaign headed by coalitions and compelling mass advertising. This pro-woman’s suffrage advertisement is an example of the new campaign. “It is not good that man should be alone” is in reference to Bible passage Moses 3:18.
16) November 10, 1912, Morning Oregonian – “Mrs. Duniway Is Honored”
In the November election of 1912, after decades of campaigning, Oregon voters granted women the right to vote. Governor West requested that the proclamation be penned by Abigail Scott Duniway, to honor the veteran suffragist. The Morning Oregonian reports, “The proclamation will thus become a part of the archives of the state in the handwriting of the pioneer woman suffrage leader of the state.”