Abigail Scott Duniway (1834-1915) and Idaho Suffrage
“When women’s true history shall have been written, her part in the upbuilding of this nation will astound the world.”
— From the West to the West: Across the Plains to Oregon
Abigail Scott Duniway, a leader in Idaho’s suffrage movement, was born on a farm in Illinois in 1834. In 1852 she and her family made the 2,400 mile trek west along the Oregon Trail, her mother and three-year-old brother dying en route. The family settled near Lafayette, Oregon.
After teaching school for a year, Abigail married Benjamin Duniway in 1853. They homesteaded land obtained through the Oregon Land Donation Act of 1850, and by 1859 she had given birth to three of her eventual six children. Duniway completed her first novel during this period —Captain Gray’s Company, or Crossing the Plains and Living in Oregon — a fictionalized account of her family’s trek west. Oregon’s first commercially printed novel, it was published in 1859.
When Benjamin was disabled in a farm accident, it fell to Abigail to support their growing family, first working as a schoolteacher, then opening a millinery shop. In 1871 the family moved to Portland, where Abigail started a weekly newspaper called the New Northwest and began frequent trips lecturing on equal rights throughout the Northwest. In that same year, she had her first contact with the national suffrage movement managing Susan B. Anthony’s two-month lecture tour of the Northwest.
Abigail spoke many times in Boise and other towns in Idaho. “Duniway reported that she had given over 140 public lectures in Idaho from 1876 to 1895, and had been obliged to travel an aggregate of over 12,000 miles by river, rail, stage and buckboard” (Jean M. Ward and Elaine A. Maveety, “Yours for Liberty”: Selections From Abigail Scott Duniway’s Suffrage Newspaper). Duniway “made an historic 6,000-word speech to Idaho’s statehood planning convention in 1880, and campaigned here again in 1895-1896. She sold her paper in 1887 and turned her ‘entire attention to Idaho’ when she joined her husband and sons who had homesteaded a livestock ranch in the Pahsimeroi Valley of Idaho’s Lost River country. She lived in a ‘lodge in the wilderness’ until 1894 when she returned to Portland to edit a magazine, Pacific Empire.” (Betty Penson-Ward, Who’s Who of Idaho Women of the Past.)
While on her Idaho ranch in the summer of 1889, Duniway received an urgent letter from suffrage workers in Boise : “Come at once. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union is spoiling everything. They have arranged for a hearing before the convention, in advance of ours, asking for a clause in the new Constitution to prohibit the liquor traffic. They won’t get it, of course, but they will prohibit us from getting a Woman Suffrage plank, if you don’t come!” Duniway writes, “It was a long, hot, rough, dusty ride over the stage road, but I answered the call, and arrived in Boise on time, after taking the train at Blackfoot, eighty miles from our lodge in the wilderness. I found the suffragists in a flutter of trepidation.” (Idaho Yesterdays, Summer 1990.)
In 1896 Idaho gave women the right to vote (12,126 votes in favor and 6,282 votes against) the fourth state to do so after Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. Oregon women had to wait much longer — until November, 1912, a few days after Abigail’s 78th birthday (with a vote of 61,265 for and 57,104 against). The biggest opponent of women’s suffrage in Oregon, and author of numerous anti-suffrage editorials, was her own brother, Harvey Scott, the influential publisher of The Oregonian newspaper for over thirty years. Nationwide, women did not obtain suffrage until 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was enacted.
Duniway wrote and signed (along with the governor) Oregon’s Equal Suffrage Proclamation, and was the first woman in the state to register to vote. She cast her first vote in 1914. She died in Portland a year later, in October, 1915, at the age of eighty.
- Alter, Judy. “Abigail Scott Duniway: Women’s Rights Advocate,” Extraordinary Women of the American West. New York: Children’s Press, 1999.
- Baym, Nina. Women writers of the American West, 1833-1927. Urbana, Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2011.
- Edwards, G. Thomas. Sowing Good Seeds: The Northwest Suffrage Campaigns of Susan B. Anthony. Portland, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1990.
- Stanton, Elizabeth Cady; Ida Husted Harper; Matilda Joslyn Gage; Susan B. Anthony, editors. The History of Woman Suffrage: In Four Volumes. New York, Fowler & Wells, 1881-1922. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001142954. Accessed April 9, 2019.
- Morrison, Dorothy N. Ladies Were Not Expected: Abigail Scott Duniway and Women’s Rights. New York: Atheneum, 1977.
- Moynihan, Ruth Barnes. Rebel for Rights: Abigail Scott Duniway. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1983.
- Moynihan, Ruth Barnes; Blair, Karen J., editor. “Of Women’s Rights and Freedom: Abigail Scott Duniway.” Women in Pacific Northwest History, An Anthology. Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press, 2001.
- Penson-Ward, Betty. Who’s Who of Idaho Women of the Past. Boise, Idaho: Idaho Commission on Women’s Programs, 1981.
- Richey, Elinor. “Abigail Scott Duniway: Up From Hard Scrabble,” Eminent Women of the West. Berkeley, California: Howell-North Books, 1975.
- Riley, Glenda, and Richard W. Etulain, editors. “Abigail Scott Duniway: Mother of Woman Suffrage in the Pacific Northwest,” By Grit and by Grace: Eleven Women Who Shaped the West. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Pub., 1997.
- Shein, Debra. Abigail Scott Duniway. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 2002.
- Shirley, Gayle C. “Abigail Scott Duniway: Path Breaker,” More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Oregon Women. Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press, 2010.
- Smith, Helen Krebs. Presumptuous Dreamers: A Sociological History of the Life and Times of Abigail Scott Duniway, 1834-1915. Lake Oswego, Oregon: Smith, Smith and Smith Pub. Co., 1974, 1983.
- Ward, Jean M., and Elaine A. Maveety. “Abigail Scott Duniway 1834-1915,” Pacific Northwest Women 1815-1925. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press, 1995.
- Wheeler, Marjorie Sprull, editor. One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement. Troutdale, Oregon: NewSage Press, 1995.
- “As We Were: Abigail Scott Duniway Addresses the Idaho Constitutional Convention,” Idaho Yesterdays, Summer 1990. pp.21-27.
- Kessler, Lauren. “A Siege of the Citadels: Search for a Public Forum for the Ideas of Oregon Woman Suffrage.” Oregon Historical Quarterly. Vol. 84, No. 2, Summer, 1983, pp. 117-150.
- Larson, T.A. “Idaho’s Role in America’s Woman Suffrage Crusade.” Idaho Yesterdays, Spring 1974. pp. 2-15.
- Larson, T.A. “Women’s Rights in Idaho.” Idaho Yesterdays, Spring 1972 pp. 2-19.
Books by Abigail Scott Duniway
- Edna and John: A Romance of Idaho Flat. Pullman, Washington: Washington State University Press, 2000. – First of a trilogy of Idaho works, followed by Blanche LeClerq  and Margaret Rudson .
- Ward, Jean M., and Elaine A. Maveety, editors. “Yours for Liberty”: Selections From Abigail Scott Duniway’s Suffrage Newspaper.
- Duniway, Abigail Scott. Path breaking; an autobiographical history of the equal suffrage movement in Pacific coast states. Portland, Oregon: James, Kerns & Abbott Co., 1914. 2nd edition.
- Abigail Scott Duniway (1834-1915), The Oregon Encyclopedia. https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/abigail_scott_duniway/#.XK0mYOhKhaQ. Accessed April 9, 2019.
- Abigail Scott Duniway papers, 1852-1992. Description of collection held by the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives. Archives West. http://archiveswest.orbiscascade.org/ark:/80444/xv63619. Accessed April 9, 2019.
- Abigail Scott Duniway. Oregon Experience. Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB). June 16, 2006 8 p.m., Updated: April 2, 2015 6:03 a.m. https://www.opb.org/television/programs/oregonexperience/segment/abigail-scott-duniway-/. Accessed April 9, 2019.
- “She Flies With Her Own Wings” The Collected Speeches of Abigail Scott Duniway (1834-1915). . http://asduniway.org/home/. Accessed April 9, 2019.
Ellen Druckenbrod. Updated by Ronnie Joiner on April 9, 2019.