Women and Citizenship in Oregon History

By Jensen, Kimberly | Oregon Historical Quarterly, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Women and Citizenship in Oregon History


Jensen, Kimberly, Oregon Historical Quarterly


UNTIL OREGON'S HISTORICAL RECORD includes an intricate and nuanced understanding of diverse women's and men's experiences, and of the intersections among their complicated communities and institutions, we cannot realize true equality and social justice in the Oregon of our present and future. Citizenship comprises not only the ability to vote but also an array of rights and responsibilities central to being a full member of a community and society. Understanding the gendered nature of citizenship, and the complex barriers to full social, cultural, and economic citizenship for women in our state, is central to achieving complete membership and civic rights for all Oregonians in the future.

This special issue of the Oregon Historical Quarterly focuses on women and citizenship as part of the centennial commemoration of the 1912 achievement of woman suffrage in Oregon, and I am honored to serve as guest editor. (1) Citizenship provides a broad analytic lens through which we may study the history of women in our state and of Oregon as a whole. Citizenship comprises civic rights and obligations set by state, federal, and tribal law. Those rights and obligations include voting, jury service, and office holding, all elements of creating and carrying out the rules and policies necessary for individuals and groups to participate in the political process. That participation includes acts to support the state, such as the paying of taxes, and, for some, military service. Many people conceive of citizenship as a stewardship of land, resources, and knowledge to be passed to future generations. Citizenship also has to do with what historian Alice Kessler-Harris has termed economic citizenship, which includes the right to access educational training and the tools for a particular career or profession, equity in the rules of property holding, equal pay for equal work, and equal access to benefits that result from service to the state. (2) Constitutional scholar Gretchen Ritter notes that civic membership "is located in all of the places where the state and the populous intersect: in the legal realm, the regulatory and policy realms, and the realm of political representation and popular culture." (3)

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Citizenship confers power. Historically, the rules of citizenship constructed in Oregon and at the federal level of the United States have limited that power to native-born, white, heterosexual men. White male delegates to Oregon's constitutional convention in 1857 conferred the power to vote on white men who fulfilled age and residency requirements in the state, with specific prohibitions against African American, Chinese American, and "mulatto" (mixed-race) men. (4) As Peggy Pascoe has shown, legislators encoded whiteness and the privilege of property holding (as well as other benefits of marriage) into the 1866 Oregon law preventing marriage between Euro-Americans and African Americans, Chinese Americans, Native Hawaiians, and other Native peoples. (5) The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed two years later, declared citizenship to be the right of all persons born or naturalized in the United States. But when woman suffrage advocates around the country--including Susan B. Anthony in Rochester, New York, and Portlanders Abigail Scott Duniway, Maria Hendee, Mrs. M.A. Lambert, and Mary Beatty (who was an African American)--tried to vote in the 1872 presidential election, their votes were not counted. The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently ruled in Minor v. Happersett (1875) that voting was not one of the privileges of citizenship. (6)

With Oregon situated in the Pacific Northwest, on the Pacific Rim, and in the path of a United States citizenship defined by white male privilege and the perceived manifest destiny of Euro-Americans to overtake and control the continent, state policymakers systematically colonized the land, sought to destroy Native communities, and denied citizenship rights (including freedom from violence) to residents and immigrants of color and to Native peoples. …

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