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The Souvenir of Western Women/Pioneering in Legislative Halls

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Pioneering in Legislative Halls

THE FIRST APPEARANCE before a legislative assembly by official invitation in any part of the Pacific Northwest, of which the compiler hereof can find a record, occurred in the autumn of 1871, in the capital city of Olympia, Washington Territory, when Abigail Scott Duniway, accompanied by Susan B. Anthony, was graciously accorded a hearing by invitation of a joint session of the two houses in advocacy of the enfranchisement of women. The addresses of these famous leaders attracted wide attention, but failed to secure the legislation desired, though they opened the way for subsequent action.

In the month of September, 1872, Mrs. Duniway, being clothed with discretionary power by the executive committee of the Oregon State Woman Suffrage Association, visited the Oregon legislature and began a peaceful struggle for the enfranchisement of the women of Oregon, of which the compiler cannot do better than to quote from her personal narrative (see History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. III, p. 770). Mrs. Duniway says: "My first experiences at the capital city were especially trying. I spent two days among my acquaintances in Salem in a vain attempt to find a woman who was ready or willing to accompany me to the state house. All were anxious that I should go, but each was afraid to offend her husband, or make herself conspicuous by going herself. Finally, when I had despaired of finding company and had nerved myself to go alone, Mrs. (afterwards Doctor) Mary P. Sawtelle volunteered to stand by me, and together we entered the domain, hitherto considered sacred to the aristocracy of sex, and took seats in the lobby, our hearts beating audibly. Hon. Joseph Engle, perceiving the innovation, at once arose, and after a complimentary speech, in which he was pleased to recognize my position as a journalist, moved that I (as editor of the New Northwest) be invited to a seat within the bar and provided with table and stationery, as were other members of the profession. The motion carried with only two or three dissenting votes; and from that time forward the way was open for women to compete with men, on equal terms, for all minor positions in both branches of the legislature—a condition they have not been slow to avail themselves of, scores of them thronging the capitol in later years and holding valuable clerkships, many of them sneering, the while, at the efforts of those who had opened the way for them to be there at all."

Continuing her narrative, Mrs. Duniway says: "In September of 1878 I was again at my post circulating my New Northwest among the lawmakers. An opportunity was given me at this session to make an extended argument before a joint session of the two houses, which occupied an hour in delivery, and was accorded profound attention.

"I was much opposed to the growing desire of the legislature to shirk its responsibility upon the voters at large by submitting to them a proposed constitutional amendment to enfranchise women. The constitution nowhere prohibits women from voting, and I labored to show that all we need is a declaratory act extending to us the elective franchise under the existing fundamental law. Dr. Mary A. Thompson followed in a forcible speech, and was courteously received.

"When the legislature met in 1880 it was decided by the Woman Suffrage Association that I should try to 'raise the blockade' caused by the failure of our attempt to induce the legislature to take the responsibility of the initiative by returning to our original work for amending the state constitution. Pursuant to this decision a resolution was offered in the senate by Hon. C. W. Fulton, and in the house by Hon. Lee Laughlin, which, after considerable discussion pro and con, in which I was graciously invited to participate on the floor of both houses, was passed by a two-thirds majority.

"In the autumn of 1881 the legislature of Washington met in Olympia one afternoon to listen to arguments from Hon. William H. White and myself in advocacy of an equal suffrage bill. The bill passed the house on the following day by a majority of two, but was defeated in the council by a majority of two, thus showing that the vote would have been a tie taken under the joint ballot rule.

"Returning to Oregon I renewed the contest in our home assembly, and in the autumn of 1882 we were all gratified by the passage of the pending constitutional amendment by a very nearly unanimous vote of both houses.

In the autumn of 1883 I was again at Olympia in the interest of an equal suffrage bill. This bill, which had been prepared by Professor William H. Roberts, passed the house early in the session, but the assembly had nearly completed its deliberations before final action was reached in the council. The matter had been thoroughly canvassed in the council, and no member offered a word for or against its adoption. The deathly stillness of the chamber was broken only by the clerk's call of the roll and the firm responses of the 'ayes' and 'noes,' and was carried by a majority of one." (For further particulars see Woman Suffrage History, Vols. III and IV. Ed.)

The territorial legislature of Idaho was addressed by Mrs. Duniway in behalf of a bill to enfranchise women in 1887, and in 1889 she appeared before the constitutional convention at Boise in behalf of an equal suffrage plank in the state constitution. A large majority of delegates in the convention favored the measure, and pledged it their support in the near future. In 1893 Mrs. Rebecca Mitchell appeared before the Idaho state legislative assembly in behalf of an equal suffrage bill, which was defeated by two votes.

Under the able leadership of Dr. Annice F. Jeffreys, a joint resolution was proposed for submitting the question to the electors of Oregon, and passed in the legislative assembly of 1895 by a practically unanimous vote. But, as the solons of the legislature fell to quarreling among themselves when they met in 1897, and failed to organize for business, the question went over till the assembly met in 1899, when the action of the assembly of 1895 was promptly ratified.

M. O. D.