I am a woman and I just voted. I voted for a woman to become the President of the United States. One hundred years ago, that would have been laughable. Not only would a woman never be on a ballot, but women couldn’t even cast ballots. There is something so important about all this. It is imperative that we look at this and acknowledge the enormity of the situation.
I’ve always known the history of Oswald West and women’s suffrage in Oregon. I’ve always known that he was able to grant the vote to women during his term as governor. I’ve always known about Abigail Scott Duniway, and known that she was a suffragette. But I haven’t always known the full story of women’s suffrage in Oregon, and I wonder how much you, my curious reader, know. I did some research and I want to share it with you.
When Oregon’s constitution was written in 1857, it included this statement, “every white, male citizen of the United States of the age of twenty-one and upwards, who shall have resided in the State during the six months immediately preceding such election…. shall be entitled to vote at all elections authorized by law.” One man, David Logan, moved to omit the word ‘male’ before ‘citizen,’ but his request wasn’t even discussed. When the 14th and 15th amendments were passed in the federal constitution, the Oregon constitution was amended to include all males as electors, but not women.
Women still didn’t count, despite efforts by equal suffrage supporters to claim voting rights for women, along with the newly emancipated black men.
In 1872, four Oregonian women took a stand and went to the polls to vote. They gave their votes to the judge, who put them under the ballot box – not in it. Their votes weren’t counted, but their act of voting was an important one, nonetheless.
The next year, 1873, Abigail Scott Duniway , one of those four brave women, founded the Oregon State Equalization Society, and my great-grandfather, Oswald West was born.
Abigail Scott Duniway wrote and published a newspaper, New Northwest, which was a widely circulated pro-suffrage publication. She also led the way for suffrage supporters in Oregon and followed the “still hunt” strategy for gaining support for suffrage. Instead of throwing parades and huge protests, Duniway and her supporters tried to influence the men in power in a more personal, quiet way. They would write letters, hand out pamphlets, and wait until the end of the campaign to make public displays for their cause.
As the family story goes, ten years later, in 1883, young Oswald West was able to hear Abigail Scott Duniway speak on women’s suffrage near his home in Salem. He remembered her looking right at him and asking, “Don’t you feel like your mother is as good, if not better, than the ordinary saloon bums in Salem?” Os, being a staunch prohibitionist from an early age, whole-heartedly answered that – yes, he did feel that way. From that moment on, his political opinions were ignited and he worked to help women win the battle for the vote.
Oregon has the distinction of having put this matter to the voters more than any other state. Oregon male voters voted on suffrage in 1884, 1900, 1908, 1910, and finally passed the amendment on November 5th, 1912 with 52% of the votes – 67,625 votes in favor, and 57,104 votes against.
On November 30th, 1912, when Oswald West was Oregon’s governor, he asked Abigail Scott Duniway to write and sign the Women’s Suffrage Proclamation. (photo of this can be see here) She drafted the proclamation and Os West, along with Ben W. Olcott, as Secretary of State, signed it.
This is a history I’ve always known. I have always been proud of this family history. I’ve always been proud to carry on the legacy of the great men who were there when Abigail Scott Duniway made her lifelong dream a reality. I’m so proud of this history that I gave my daughters middle names that honor and remember West and Olcott for the foresight and respect they showed to Oregon’s women.
Today, we get to cast a ballot that Abigail Scott Duniway, along with Os West and Ben Olcott, would be so incredibly happy to know exists. We get to vote for a woman to hold the highest office in our nation. Not only that, but we get to vote for a woman who deserves that office more than anyone before her.
One hundred and four year ago, tomorrow, Oregon’s men decided that women were worthy of the incredible right to vote. Next Tuesday, we all get to decide who will be our next president and it very well could be a woman.
It was a fight to achieve equal suffrage. It has been a fight to give women the rights that men have taken for granted for centuries. It has been a fight to get women in any office. It has been a fight to get Hillary to November (a long, hard fight that just proves her strength and resilience). It will be a fight to get her elected. When she’s elected the fight won’t stop. It is clear that we still live in a nation wrapped up in sexism. Hillary has crashed through the glass ceiling, but there are still shards of sexism laying everywhere.
As a child, I remember looking at the poster of all our presidents that was in my first grade classroom. It didn’t even occur to me that it was strange that all the presidents were white men. It was just the reality that I knew. I so much love that that isn’t the reality that my daughters were born into. They were both born while we’ve had a black president, and, hopefully, the next one will be a woman. The world is changing.
Here are some websites that I consulted as I wrote this post:
Oregon Blue Book
Woman Suffrage in Oregon
I also was able to look at some amazing historical documents at the University of Oregon Knight Library’s Special Collections.
Also, I came across this lovely coincidence: There was a suffragette who was very active during the 1912 campaign who was named Harriet, but called Hattie, just like my Harriet. She was a brave African American woman “in a state that had codified black exclusion laws in its constitution. Redmond’s work for voting rights helped lay the groundwork for the Black Civil Rights movement of the mid-twentieth century.” I can’t think of a better woman with whom Harriet should share a name. Read more about Harriet Redmond here.