Every gain women have made in the past two hundred years has been in the face of experts insisting they couldn’t do it and didn’t really want to.
--Katha Pollitt, 2005
Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.
--Rosa Luxemburg, 1918
The Walk of the Heroines honors the many ways that women have contributed to the development of our families, our cities, our state, and our nation. One of the significant struggles women engaged in for over seventy years was the right to vote. Oregon, like the nation at its beginning, did not extend the right to vote to women in its original constitution. For most Oregon women, this essential right of citizenship was finally gained in 1912. This was eight years before the right to vote was extended to female American citizens with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920. Women’s campaign for the vote occurred on both the national and state level, and included a variety of strategies to reach their goal.
In July of 1848, the first Woman’s Rights Convention took place at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls New York. Lead by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the attendees adopted the Declaration of Sentiments that outlined women’s grievances and remedies, including the resolution of women’s “sacred right to the elective franchise.” Women organized around the issue of the vote, also known as suffrage or the franchise, to amend the Constitution, and their efforts gained momentum after the Civil War ended in 1865. A split over whether to support extending the vote to Black men through the 15th Amendment divided the woman suffrage movement in the national effort to gain the vote for many years.
Many Western territories and states began to extend full or universal voting rights to women as early as 1890: Wyoming, 1890; Colorado, 1893; Utah, 1895, and Idaho, 1896. With political parties much less entrenched than in the Eastern states, the West was considered more open to political experimentation. Women worked in tandem with men to homestead the West and were more often considered equals and deserving of the same rights. With the start of the twentieth century, the national woman suffrage organization, National American Woman Suffrage Association, threw its support behind state women’s suffrage campaigns. Washington State passed its woman suffrage amendment in 1910, followed by California in 1911. Oregon joined its neighboring states in 1912.
Beginning with the formation of local equal suffrage associations in 1870, the struggle for full voting rights for Oregon women spanned forty-two years. The issue of voting rights for Oregon’s women appeared on the state’s ballot six times: 1884, 1900, 1906, 1908, 1910, and 1912. Abigail Scott Duniway, often called the Mother of Oregon woman suffrage, led the movement in Oregon for many years. Her method, called the “still hunt,” involved lobbying powerful business interests and legislators behind the scenes, and purposefully avoided engaging in public campaigns. As early as 1871, Duniway connected with the national suffrage movement and its leaders, particularly Susan B. Anthony. Duniway and Anthony toured the state that year, giving over 80 speeches in any venue that would have them. Duniway considered Anthony her mentor for achieving woman suffrage, even when they disagreed on the best tactics, such as whether to highlight the issue of temperance, or the prohibition of alcohol. Abigail Scott Duniway did not support temperance, and thought it was a deterrent to convincing men to give women the vote.
Four women attempted to vote in Oregon elections as early as 1872. Abigail Scott Duniway, Martha Foster, and Martha Dalton were joined by Mrs. Beatty, an African American woman, but their votes were not counted. Undeterred, women’s groups continued to organize across Oregon to convince the men of the state to extend the franchise to women. Women would gain limited suffrage in school elections, but universal suffrage, the right to vote in state and national elections, remained elusive after two failed attempts to pass voting rights for women in 1884 and 1900. With the passage of the Initiative measure in 1902, Oregon’s women had a new political tool to use in their struggle to get woman suffrage on the ballot.
The National American Woman Suffrage Association held their annual convention in Portland in the summer of 1905. The support of the national woman suffrage movement found a new generation of suffragists with Esther Pohl Lovejoy, Hattie Redmond, and Josephine Hirsch ready to continue the fight for the woman’s vote. The Portland Women’s Union and the Portland Woman’s Club used their organizational skills and networks to press the case for woman suffrage. Broad coalitions brought urban and rural supporters together, from the Colored Women’s Equal Suffrage Association and the Chinese American Equal Suffrage Society to the Oregon Socialist Party and the Oregon State Grange. They used modern media techniques such as advertising, leaflets, theater presentations, and mass meetings.
The right to vote was not universally applied to all women living in Oregon when they achieved the vote in 1912. For Native American women, the vote was extended to them only if they were married to a white man, and no first generation women (and men) from Asia could cast a ballot because they were barred from becoming naturalized citizens. Racial discrimination at the ballot box also remained a factor for Black women voters.
Suffrage campaigns did not stop there, and Esther Pohl Lovejoy, Sara Bard Field, Clara Wold, and Florence Sharp Manion worked to pass a national woman suffrage amendment. Clara Wold would join the younger, militant National Woman’s Party led by Lucy Burns and Alice Paul in picketing the White House, getting arrested, and being force-fed in jail. The 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was finally ratified by the required 36 states on August 26, 1920, now known as Equality Day. Even then, suffrage did not extend to Native American women, or men, who were granted neither legal status as U.S. citizens, nor the ability to vote, until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.
The right to vote was an important first step in women becoming full citizens and gaining other essential civil rights. Holding elective office was equally important, and closely following on the heels of gaining suffrage, women began to seek elective office at the municipal, county, state, and national levels. Nan Wood Honeyman served as Oregon’s first female representative in the U.S. House from 1935-37, followed by Maurine S. Neuberger in the U.S. Senate from 1960-68. U.S. Representative Edith Green was a key author of Title IX, which has given generations of girls and young women the opportunity to engage in competitive athletics. On the state level, Norma Paulus became the first woman elected to statewide office in Oregon, and in 1991 Barbara Roberts became Oregon’s first woman governor.
Voting was just one of the civil rights sought by Portland’s Black female citizens, who organized to bring economic, legal, educational, and social equality to their communities. The twenty-seven women honored as Portland’s Black Women Civil Rights Heroines, include Beatrice Morrow Cannady and Bobbie Dore Foster, editors of The Advocate and The Skanner, respectively, who used their newspapers to advocate for civil rights. Kathryn Bogle was an outspoken critic of racist policies, and worked with the League of Women Voters, and Verdell Rutherford and other civil rights organizations to pass the Public Accommodation Law in 1953. Margaret Carter and Avel Gordly become the first Black women elected to the Oregon House of Representatives and the Oregon Senate, while the Honorable Mercedes Deiz served as the first Black female judge when she was appointed to the Multnomah County District Court in 1970.
Upon ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, the National American Woman Suffrage Association turned its mission to the education of new women voters and became the League of Women Voters. The National Women’s Party introduced the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution in 1923, to further integrate women’s equality. A concerted effort to ratify the ERA unfolded during the 1970s, but did not garner the required number of states for ratification. Many states passed their own equal rights amendments, and laws that were based on gender, such as credit, property rights, and insurance, were changed, as were cultural traditions such as gender specific job listings in classified advertising. The women, and men, who worked for women’s right to vote knew that equality began with the ballot, but that full citizenship would only be achieved with economic, political, and cultural equality.
Author: Jan Dilg, Historian and Instructor, Portland State University