This year marks 100 since women got the vote across the United States, and we’ve been doing some research at the Josephy Center in preparation for our March Women’s show. We plan to honor women and the 19th Amendment.
Women’s suffrage was a long fight, with at least one hero we remember by name: Susan B. Anthony. The suffrage amendment carried her name, and her image was put on a dollar coin a few years ago. The coin and its use were a bust — women still have uphill battles.
There were national suffrage organizations and conventions beginning in the 1860s, and there were individual women and their own organizations across the states that furthered the cause. In general, the West beat the rest of the country hands-down in giving women the vote. Wyoming came into the Union as a territory in 1869 with full voting rights for women. When it became a state in 1890, suffrage was part of the compact. That led to some opposition, but Wyoming stood firm, and thus became the first state to allow women the vote.
It’s said that Wyoming was short on women, and that Wyoming men thought this a way to recruit women from the East. But there are other indications that Wyoming men — and men across the West — knew that women could pull their weight in the homesteading world.
In Oregon, Abigail Scott Duniway was our Susan B. Anthony. Married, with children and a disabled husband, she taught school, ran a millenary shop and, in 1871, founded The New Northwest, a weekly newspaper devoted to women’s rights. Duniway had subscribers across the region and traveled widely, promoting suffrage in Idaho and Washington and across Oregon. In 1887, she gave a July 4 talk at the head of Wallowa Lake!
Abigail’s brother, Harvey Scott, had his own newspaper, the Portland Oregonian, and used it to fight his sister at every turn. Among other things, Scott argued that women did not want to vote. Abigail’s persistence paid off in 1912 when Oregon became the seventh state in the U.S. to pass a women’s suffrage amendment. Gov. Oswald West asked Abigail to write and sign the proclamation.
We couldn’t find much in the way of celebration in Wallowa County in 1912 or 1920. There is a list of subscribers to Duniway’s newspaper, and a wonderful piece of information from Lostine City Recorder Toni Clary. She found a copy of Lostine’s original “Special Laws” from 1903, in which women “having acquired residence within the city limits and the state, and of lawful age, shall have the right to vote.” We don’t have records of any actual votes, but it might be that women first voted in Oregon in Lostine!
There is further legal language in the Lostine document that women “who have property within the city limits … shall have the right to vote upon a city tax.” The requirement of owning property extended to men as well. This was not a new requirement for voting; it goes back to the earliest days of the Republic.
The Founding Fathers worried that those who did not own property but were a numerical majority would overwhelm property owners. Their compromise was to allow the states to prescribe “The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives [and the] establishment of the franchise.”
The language of the Constitution in 1789 and the habits of the day judged that “equal rights” meant rights shared by property owning white men. Populist Andrew Jackson pushed for extension to all white men, and the post-Civil War amendments extended the vote to freed slaves — although poll taxes and outrageous constitutional exam questions effectively denied many Southern Blacks the vote until the Civil Rights acts of the 1960s.
Women joined the ranks of regular voters in 1920, and American Indians followed when they received citizenship and the vote in 1923. And both groups struggle to win elective office. Today, 21 of 100 women serve as senators, and only nine of the 50 governors are women. Paulette Jordan, a Native woman from Idaho, failed but ran well in the race for governor, and just announced that she is running for the Senate.
But women made the difference in many congressional elections in 2018, and are running and being courted seriously by all candidates in 2020. It only took 100 years.