Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

ABIGAIL SCOTT DUNIWAY (1834-1915), praise and blame for woman's rights "Where Rolls the Oregon"

RANDALL A. LAKE

An Illinois native who migrated with her family to Oregon in 1852 at the age of seventeen, Abigail Scott Duniway devoted more than four decades of her life to the cause of equal rights for women. With less than a year of formal education and responsibility for an invalid farmer husband and six children, "Jernnie" nonetheless became a school teacher, milliner, businesswoman, journalist, author, and vigorous proponent of equal rights. She was well informed on and broadly interested in public issues, trends, and reforms of the day, including spiritualism, abolitionism, temperance, bimetallism, immigration, and party politics, and was particularly concerned about women's economic plight. She fought for a woman's right to own property in her own name and to secure that property from her husband and his creditors. She railed against unequal wages on the job and unpaid labor at home, urging that marriage be organized as a business (Address, Progressive Party, 1914:8). Above all, she toiled ceaselessly for that one right on which, she believed, all improvements in woman's lot depended: the right to vote.

To this end, Scott Duniway traveled thousands of miles, spoke on thousands of occasions, and wrote thousands of pages. She cut her teeth on the lecture circuit during SUSAN B. ANTHONY's thousand-mile speaking tour of Oregon and Washington in 1871, for which Scott Duniway served as business manager and delivered speeches of introduction. Thereafter, she stumped the territory herself, organizing local suffrage associations and canvassing for her woman's rights newspaper, The New Northwest (NNW). Her energies were spent primarily in her "chosen bailiwick," the Pacific Northwest. She divided the first twelve and one-half years of her efforts equally between Oregon and Washington, estimating that she delivered seventy speeches in each place every year for a total of 1,750 from 1871 to 1884. She was also the chief advocate for woman's rights in Idaho for nearly twenty years; her work there, she estimated, involved 140 public lectures and 12,000 miles of travel from 1876 to 1895. In 1886, she reported walking five miles every day except Sunday to collect subscriptions for the NNW, writing 100 pages, and delivering three to four public lectures per week ( Larson, 1976: 4; Myres, 1982:36n.42; ASD to Mrs. M. C. Athey, January 6, 1897, in ASD II; Address, NWSA, 1884). In addition, she lectured throughout northern California and in states across the country, including Illinois, Iowa, Wyoming, Utah, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., on her way to and from national suffrage conventions. Finally, she participated actively in related reform organizations, including temperance alliances and women's clubs.

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