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Portland, Oregon: Its History and Builders/Volume 3/Abigail Scott Duniway

< Portland, Oregon: Its History and Builders‎ | Volume 3

ABIGAIL SCOTT DUNIWAY.

PERSONAL REMINISCENCES OF A PIONEER.

The ancestral Bible of the Scott family records that I was born October 22, 1834. My honored father, John Tucker Scott, born in Kentucky, in 1809, of Scotch-Irish and English parentage, and my beloved mother, Ann Roelofson, born in 1811, of German, French and English stock, imparted to their old-fashioned Illinois family of a dozen sons and daughters, the combined ruggedness and elasticity of physique and temperament which the hardships and privations of pioneer life strengthened in a marked degree in some of us, and so weakened the constitutions of others that half of us died in infancy or youth, and the remainder lived, or are living, to a ripe old age.

Of this family the writer hereof was the third, born in a humble border cabin home, on the fourth anniversary of a (not in those days unusually) fruitful marriage; although my mother once informed me, in after years, that my father was cross, and she herself had wept bitterly, because I was a girl. Their first born, a boy, had died in infancy, bringing them their first great sorrow; and the second, being a daughter, was a serious disappointment to both parents, while I, who had the temerity to follow her as to sex, was a grievance, almost too burdensome to be borne.

The first home of my grandfather Scott, bearing any semblance to pretension, was built during my first year of bodily existence; and my grandmother Roelofson, having broken her leg in a fall and in the absence of proper surgery, being a cripple ever after, the household burdens of two ancestral border homes fell upon my faithful mother, who once told me sadly, that I sat on the floor during my first summer, complaining and neglected, soothed only by a piece of bacon, attached by a string to a bed-post, or a loom stanchion, until I would fall asleep from exhaustion, a prey to numerous house flies.

My first task, as I remember it, was washing dishes while standing on a chair to reach the table; my next was a seemingly overwhelming job of paring, quartering, coring and stringing apples, in long festoons for drying. Then followed the sleep-urging monotony of picking wool by hand; and after this came the spinning wheel, of which my elder sister and I became expert manipulators.

In the springtime, as I grew older, came always the work of the maple sugar camp, and after that, corn planting; then followed hoeing corn and potatoes. Milking the cows morning and evening was a regular duty, and I often wielded the dasher of an old-fashioned churn, while always, in emergencies, it fell to my lot to assist my late lamented brother, Harvey W. Scott, to chop.

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ABIGAIL SCOTT DUNIWAY

gather and drag the dead limbs that fell annually from the great maple, hickory and Walnut trees in the beautiful forest which my grandmother Scott had christened Pleasant Grove, a title it carries to this day.

As the years sped on I grew rapidly into a tall, spindling and awkward child, and was often ill on account of performing tasks for which my rapid growth ought to have excused an undeveloped daughter. It was at this time, and for long afterwards, the general belief among grown-ups, that no child was in danger or injury from overwork, an almost fatal misconception of a fact in my case, as the re-sodding of a blue grass lawn at the age of nine, after a hard winter, gave me a chronic weakness of the spine which will never cease to ache till after I leave the body for good and all.

Having become an overgrown though weakly young girl, I was unable to receive even the meager advantages for schooling that were accorded to the more rugged members of our household; and such learning as I got consisted chiefly of a five months' term in an apology for an academy in Stout's Grove, a rustic village in the heart of Illinois near what is now the town of Danvers.

Early in the spring of 1852, my father, having caught the "Oregon fever," sold his possessions in Illinois and started with his family and a long line of covered wagons, drawn by teams of oxen, to this land of the setting sun. The limits of this narrative preclude further details of that perilous journey, further than to say that of the many who perished by the wayside in that eventful year, lingers longest and tenderest the memory of our faithful, gentle and self-sacrificing mother, whom we laid away, for the eternal sleep of the body, in the solemn fastnesses of the Black Hills, then known as a mighty section of "Mandan District," which is now a part of the great sovereign state of Wyoming. The silent snows of many winters have rested long upon the sacred spot wherein we laid her precious dust, but I cannot write any more about it now; nor can I hardly see, through tears, to read what has been written.

After completing our journey of six tedious months across the almost untracked continent, the still large remnant of my father's family settled for the winter of 1852-3 in the village of La Fayette, Oregon territory, at that time the county seat of Yamhill county, where, after the lapse of several months, through most of which I was employed in teaching a district school in a Polk county village, bearing the ambitious title of Cincinnati, since changed to Eola. Here surrounded by a beautiful, undulating valley, a few miles west of Salem, Oregon's thriving capital city, though still a child in my "teens," I met my matrimonial fate in the person of an honest young rancher and stockman, Mr. Ben C. Duniway, who conveyed me to his donation land claim in the wilds of Clackamas county, a dozen miles from Oregon City, where I spent four years of a difficult struggle with the (to me) uncongenial hardships of a back-woods farm. My husband, who had been a bachelor before taking me to his ranch, was the envied center of a group of about a dozen unmarried fellow ranchmen; and nothing delighted him more than to mobilize them at meal time at our cabin home in the wilderness, where it fell to my lot, whether the babies or I were well or ill, to feed the crowd to repletion, as is the habit of most wives and mothers of the frontier settlements unto this day.

Passing over the four years of farm life spent in Clackamas county and five years in Yamhill county, which had made me a physical wreck while yet in my "twenties," I was, as I now believe, providentially relieved by the results of a security debt, incurred by my husband, but for which I should doubtless, have long ago succumbed, as my dear mother and one sweet sister had done, to hardships unimagined by women of other and more modern modes of home-keeping, which many younger women of today enjoy, who little heed the changes that time and advancing civilization have wrought to their relief, through public efforts like mine, else none could be found who would seek to hinder the service of love for all humanity which alone nerved me to endure the martrydom of ridicule, misrepresentation and even ostracism of which I was the victim in the early years of my lonely struggle for the equal rights for the mothers of the race which has since become a world-wide movement.

I was not a willing convert to belief in equal rights for women. Blessed with a kind father and a sober, upright husband, I grew up from childhood imbued with the teaching that it was a woman's lot to engage in a lifetime of unpaid servitude and personal sacrifice; and, whether occupied with the wash tub, the churn dash, the cook stove, the kitchen sink, the mop handle, my own often infirmities or those of the ailing baby or older children, I schooled myself to imagine that I was filling my Heaven-appointed sphere, for which final recompense awaited me in the land of souls.

As all history when once recorded, becomes practically a repetition of salient facts, I will now chronicle some reminiscences from my chapter in Mary Osborn Douthit's remarkable book, "The Souvenir of Western Women," which has not been circulated generally because the lady's untimely death ended her earthly career on the threshold of its literary usefulness.

Like the man or woman of ante-bellum days who was ready at all times to assist a runaway slave to gain his freedom, but failed to comprehend the causes underlying his predicament, I for many years contented myself with the bestowal of unstinted sympathy upon women who were not in a position to speak in their own defense. But as the years went on, and I grew in wisdom, I could not help realizing that the women whose husbands would sell our butter and eggs, pigs, chickens and dried berries, to assist in the payment of taxes, in the distribution of which we had no voice, were being "taxed without representation and governed without consent." After leaving the farm and becoming a school teacher—a change made necessary by an accident that befell my good husband in the early '60s—we settled in the town of La Fayette, where for three consecutive years (or until I became a tolerable scholar myself) I gave up the double occupation of teacher and boarding-house keeper, and we removed to Albany-on-the-Willamette. Here, after another year only of teaching (without the boarders) I embarked in trade. Prior to that time I had been brought into contact chiefly with the women of the farms. As it was during the six strenuous years that I spent in trade that I learned the absolute need of woman's full and free enfranchisement, I will, by way of illustration, relate as briefly as possible a few of the incidents that gradually awakened my understanding.

One day, late in the '60s, while I was busy in the work-room of my little store, engaged in making some fashionable millinery for an estimable woman, who, having married or inherited a competence, thought all other women ought to be content with their lot, a faded little over-worked mother of half a dozen children came to me in sore distress, saying that her husband had sold their household stuff and departed for parts unknown. Then she told me of a family about to leave the town who would sell her a lot of furniture and rent her their house at a reasonable figure. "If I could borrow the money in a lump sum," she said, "I could repay it in installments." "Then," she added, between sobs, "I could keep my children together, with the aid of a few boarders." After she had left the store, and while I was inwardly fuming over my inability to assist her, a well-to-do and charitable man dropped in on a little errand, to whom I related her story. "I'll loan her the money," he said heartily. "She t:an give me a chattel mortgage on the furniture." I gladly arranged a meeting between the parties; the exchange was made, and all was going well with the weary woman, when, one day, the husband returned as suddenly as he had departed, and, by repudiating the wife's note and mortgage, the sovereign citizen and law-making husband nullified the transaction and maintained the majesty of the law. It is needless to add that my philanthropic friend lost his money and became a forceful advocate of equal rights for women ever after.

Another and later case was that of a woman in another county, whom I had long supplied with millinery and notions, on sixty days' credit, to support a little shop, in which she managed to earn an honorable livelihood for her growing family. Her husband, a well meaning but irresponsible fellow, noted chiefly for poverty and children, was only one of the "unlucky" heads of families everybody knows, whose wife must make the living—if there is any. One springtime, after I had concluded that this man's faithful and thrifty spouse had become sufficiently established to warrant the risk, I sold her a fine stock of millinery on credit. Her business opened with unusual promise, when, one day a stranger to her, who held a judgment against her husband on an old note and mortgage (given prior to their marriage without her knowledge and renewed annually), came into the town, employed an attorney, attached her stock and closed her business. That was more than forty years ago, and I still hold the woman's note for that stock of millinery.

Prior to the year 1872 there was no married woman in all the great domain of the Pacific northwest (except the comparatively few who held claims under the brief existence of the donation land law) who possessed a right, after marriage, even to the bridal trousseau her father had given her as a dot. As the laws recognized the husband and wife as "one," and the husband was that "one," the wife was legally "dead," and was supposed, as a matter of course, to have no further need for clothes.

For the foregoing reasons and many others for which the limits of this chapter have no space, I was at last aroused to the necessity of demanding the ballot for woman; and, although at this writing the final victory remains to be won, so many concessions have been made, all trending in one direction, toward the objective goal, that it would be indeed an obtuse man or woman who would doubt our ultimate and complete success.

The first law enacted by the Oregon state legislature recognizing the legal existence of married women called "The Married Woman's Sole Trader's Bill," was passed in the year 1872. This law enabled women needing its provisions to register themselves as "sole traders" in the office of their county clerk, thus protecting their personal earnings, outside of the mutual living expenses of the family, from dissipation by the husband's creditors.

A law enabling women to vote for school trustees and for funds and appropriations for public school purposes, "if they have property in the district on which they or their husbands pay a tax," was enacted in 1878. They were also empowered to fill the offices of state and county superintendents of schools, but the law was contested in 1896 by a defeated candidate and declared unconstitutional by the supreme court.

Public sentiment now encourages the employment of women as court stenographers, as clerks in both houses of the legislature, on legislative committees and in various other subordinate offices. They may serve as notaries public, and no profession or occupation is legally forbidden to them. All the large non-sectarian institutions of learning are open alike to both sexes.

If either the husband or wife die intestate and there are no descendants living, all of the real and personal property goes to the survivor. If there are children living, the widow receives one-half of the husband's real estate and one-half of his personal property; but the widower takes a life interest in all of the wife's real estate, whether there are children or not, and all of the personal property absolutely, if there are no living descendants—half if there be any. All laws have been repealed which recognize civil disabilities against the wife which are not recognized against the husband except the fundamental right of voting and helping to make the laws which she is taxed to maintain, and to which, equally with man, she is held amenable.

Of the growth of public sentiment regarding the ultimate extension of this right to women, it is significant to note that when a constitutional amendment to enfranchise woman was taken in 1884, the vote was, ayes, 11,223; noes, 28,176. And, although the population was more than doubled when the amendment was resubmitted in 1900, the vote throughout the state stood, ayes, 26,265; noes, 28,402. It will thus be seen that although the "no" vote was only augmented in sixteen years by 226, the affirmative vote was increased by 15,042. One county gave a majority for the amendment in 1884. The vote in 1900 gave us two-thirds of the counties of the state. One county was lost by a tie, one by a majority of one, and one by a majority of thirty-one.

With the advent of the Lewis and Clarke Exposition in 1905, came for the first time into Oregon the officers and organizers of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, who held a convention in Portland in June of that year; and finding here a (to them) unprecedented array of public sentiment favoring the suffrage movement, and erroneously attributing its popularity to themselves, managed by a clever ruse to remain till after the June election of 1906, for which five years of steady local effort had paved the way leading to an initiative petition to secure, for the third time in the history of our movement, the submission of a constitutional amendment to a referendum vote of the electorate of the state; and, though we had been sure of at least thirty-six thousand votes for the affirmative before our national friends had entered Oregon at all, and although there was no lack of logic, brilliancy or wit among our imported co-workers, they made the mistake they had often previously made in other state suffrage campaigns, of enlisting a little organization of well-meaning women of one political idea, who got up meetings for them all over the state, under a prohibition coloring, to which the business men of the state have ever since falsely accused the suffragists of pandering under a thin disguise.

Eastern and southern women do not understand the liberty-loving spirit of our western border; and their control of our campaign of 1906 brought to us our first organized opposition to our cause, that, owing to the rapid increase of negative votes from older states which followed the Lewis and Clarke Exposition, would seem hopeless but for the fact that our affirmative vote has practically held its own through two subsequent elections, while the overwhelming vote of 1910 for the reenfranchisement of the women of Washington, who had been voters in territorial days, has reassured our weary workers and brought us out of the ambush that kept us silent and defenseless through our electoral campaign of 1908 and 1910, which men voted down.

Our initiative petitions are ready for the submission of our equal suffrage amendment to the voters of 1912; and we, having emerged from seclusion, are pressing forward in the open, in the serene belief that our fathers, husbands, brothers and sons will proudly emulate the chivalrous voters oi Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Washington, who have extended the full privileges of the elective franchise to their best and truest friends, the women within their borders. Our shibboleth for 1912 is Votes for Women, our motto for the campaign is Make Oregon Free.


(Editor's Note.)

Mrs. Abigail Scott Duniway, affectionately known in later years throughout the Pacific northwest as "Oregon's Grand Old Woman," having omitted in her autobiographical sketch, as chronicled in these pages, all mention of the distinguished honors accorded to her during the varying vicissitudes of her long and busy life, it falls to the pleasant lot of a friend to chronicle some of the more significant incidents of her public and private history, which have made her name a household word in thousands of homes.

Mrs. Duniway first came into prominence in 1859 through the publication of a little book entitled "Captain Gray's Company, or Crossing the Plains and Living in Oregon." "The book was never worthy of the public attention it received, and I have always wondered at its sale," said the motherly old lady in a recent interview. "It was rank presumption that induced me to write it. I was an illiterate border child- wife, the overworked mother of little children, surrounded by the crudest possible pioneer conditions, through which I began grasping blindly at unknown literary straws. I outgrew the work long before it reached the public eye and would have supressed it in its infancy if I could; but it went rapidly through two editions before it was allowed to die. It builded for me better than I knew, however, since it helped to open many devious ways to opportunities for education and advancement through which I have struggled upward for more than half a century."

After leaving the Yamhill county ranch, now the famous apple orchard founded by Millard Lownsdale, Mrs. Duniway began teaching a private school in the village of La Fayette, but its patronage being insufficient for the support of her invalid husband and growing family, she prepared a dormitory in her home and readily filled it with young lady boarders. In order to properly feed and care for these boarders and her own household, in a community where hired domestic help was not attainable, Mrs. Duniway would arise regularly at four o'clock A. M. in winter and at three o'clock in summer to complete her work in the home before nine o'clock and school time.

Selling out her school in La Fayette, we next find Mrs. Duniway teaching a private school in Linn county, in the town of Albany, from which she emerged into the millinery business, which she managed successfully for six years. Then, selling out at a profit, she startled the country by moving to Portland, where, in the spring of 1871, she bought a printing office and established a weekly newspaper—The New Northwest, which at once attracted many readers. The country was new, the people were liberal and prosperous; and her advocacy of equal political rights for women meeting with unexpected favor in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, she soon found herself regularly employed in the lecture field, where she has ranked for forty years among the most able women speakers of the world.

"I ought to have been among the richest women of America," she remarked reflectively, "but my husband, having once pauperized himself by becoming surety for an ambitious friend, went to the other extreme and refused to put his signature to my papers; and I, being his wife, was legally dead and couldn't buy property in Portland while it was cheap. But its all right," she added, with a smile. "If I had accumulated riches I might have been an anti-suffragist."

Her address before the constitutional convention in Boise, Idaho, July 16, 1889, was a masterly analyzation of the prohibition problem and resulted in securing a pledge from the leading state officials and other business men of Idaho to submit the question of equal suffrage to a vote at the first election following the territory's admission to statehood, and was an important factor in making Idaho women free.

The celebration of Oregon's fortieth year of admission to statehood was held on the 14th of February, 1899, in the house of representatives at Salem, where, before the joint assembly of the state legislature and a vast audience of visitors, among the most famous speakers of the state, Mrs. Duniway was accorded the valedictory, or place of honor on the programme, and achieved high distinction.

One of her most logical speeches on the progress of all women toward ultimate equality of rights was made at the unveiling of the statue of Sacajawea at the Lewis and Clarke Exposition in the summer of 1905 and was followed by the extension of an invitation to her from President H. W. Goode, to accept the date of October 6th as Abigail Scott Duniway Day—the first reception of its kind ever extended to any woman outside of royalty by the official head of any international fair.

In January of 1910, Mrs. Duniway was made a duly accredited delegate by Governor F. W. Benson, of Oregon, to the Conservation Congress of Governers, held in Washington, D. C, where she made an impassioned plea for national recognition of equal rights for women and was accorded much consideration by distinguished men who marveled at the logic and eloquence of this elderly woman of the border.

Mrs. Duniway's descriptive poems rank high. Oregon, Land of Promise and her Centeninal Ode, the latter in commemoration of opening day at the Lewis and Clarke Exposition, being considered among her best. Numerous works of fiction appeared as serial stories in her New Northwest during the sixteen years of its publication, which their author says will be offered to the public in book form if she can ever command the time for their proper revision. Her latest book, From the West to the West, brought out by A. C. McClurg & Company, of Chicago, in 1905, still enjoys a steady sale.

Of her family of six children, her only daughter, Mrs. Clara Duniway Stearns, a beautiful and accomplished woman, died in January, 1886. Of her five sons, Willis S. is Oregon's state printer, Hubert R. is a wholesale lumber dealer in New York; Wilkie C. is superintendent of The Portland Evening Telegram; Clyde A. is president of the State University of Montana; and Ralph R. is a prominent attorney of Portland. Her husband, Mr. Ben C. Duniway, passed away in August, 1896, beloved and honored by a large circle of relatives and friends. "My children are my highest achievement and principal asset," said Mrs. Duniway, with another of her motherly smiles, as the compiler of these chronicles ended a most interesting interview.