Her-Story: An Oregon Perspective on the Woman’s Suffrage Movement – Virtual Tour of Tillamook County Pioneer Museum Exhibit


By Laura Swanson
With the Primary Election less than a month away, the focus on the Coronavirus has had an impact on campaigning and usual election happenings. The deadline to register to vote is Tuesday April 28th, and ballots will be mailed next week, and ballots must be returned by May 19th – election day. This is a significant year not only because of the election, but also because it is the 100th anniversary of women attaining the right to vote. The 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment is celebrated in an exhibit at the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum. The exhibit celebrated its opening with a gala fundraiser for Tides of Change at the end of February. Then the closure of the Museum (as well as most organizations and businesses) came mid-March. Many other events had been planned, including a voter registration event, and the exhibit presents a strong message and reminder to VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! Because your life does depend upon it.

The exhibit is more than a retrospective of the past, providing a wonderful timeline of the events that led to the ratification of the amending in August, 1920; and also features essays by dozens of women from all ages and walks of life – from Oregon’s governor to an anonymous DACA “dreamer”.
Here is the virtual tour of the exhibit:

Oregon women had the right to vote in 1912, thanks to the untiring work of suffragists such as Abigail Jane Scott Duniway. Called Jenny by friends and family, she was born in Illinoise, the third of twelve children. Coming across the prairies to the Oregon Territory in 1852, she wrote a diary of the hardships and the passing of her mother and her three-year-old brother from cholera. Despite her lack of a formal education, she was employed as a teacher in Eola, a small village near Salem. Haunted by memories of her mother’s tragic life, Jenny refused many suitors whose sole intent was to marry and take advantage of the Donation Land Claim law which gave an additional 320 acres to a married couple. She did marry Benjamin Duniway in 1853 but omitted the word “obey” from the vows. At the age of 25, she published a novel loosely based on her journey across the plains called “Captain Gray’s Company.” It was the first novel commercially printed in Oregon. Abigail Duniway went on to found a newspaper in 1871 that she called the New Northwest. In it, she launched a campaign for women’s suffrage and invited Susan B. Anthony to speak in Portland. Abigail acted as Susan’s manager and publicist for Anthony’s two-month tour of Oregon and Washington.
Oregon Poet Laureate Emerita Paulann Petersen wrote a wonderful poem honoring Duniway.
“Your Namesake School – for Abigail Scott Duniway, Oregon’s Mother of the Women’s Suffrage Movement”
There are many well-known suffragists – Susan B. Anthony one of the most famous, actually died before ratification, and it was her successor Carrie Chapman Catt that carried the charge forward. She was saddened to see the statistics for women voting drop dramatically only a few years after the 19th amendment ratified. She wrote: “Women have suffered an agony of soul which you can never comprehend that your daughters might inherit political freedom. That vote has been costly. Prize it.”