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14. Abigail Scott Duniway, Path-Breaking
Abigail Scott Duniway, Path-Breaking: An Autobiographical History of the Equal Suffrage Movement in the Pacific Coast States
(Portland: James, Kern, and Abbot, 1914), 21-27, 144-153.
CHAPTER III. Experiences in Business.
My millinery business flourished reasonably well in a financial way, but the lessons it taught, that brought me before the world as an evangel of Equal Rights for Women, were of far greater value than dollars and cents. One day, as I was standing behind the counter, making a twenty-dollar bonnet for a fashionable member of one of our leading churches, I had open before me a copy of the “State’s Rights Democrat,” when my eye fell upon a paragraph announcing that a certain well-to-do farmer had recently purchased a valuable race horse. I was musing over the investment, as I worked on the bonnet, and wondering how much the outlay would mean to his wife and children, when the family drove up in a two-horse wagon, in charge of a hired man. The day was gloomy and disagreeable, and I led the family into my work room, where there was a cheerful fire. After the mother and children had become apparently comfortable, I asked what I could do for them. The mother looked at me hesitatingly and said: “I came to see if I couldn’t get some plain sewing to do. I am obliged to earn some money.” Instantly I thought of her husband, riding into town and leading that beautiful horse, which he had covered with a brown Holland “polonaise.” The high-spirited animal was stepping proudly, as if conscious of the admiration of the men and boys that followed in its wake, while the owner couldn’t have sat more erect on the pony at his side if he had swallowed a yard stick. “I am sorry,” I said to the expectant woman, with a baby at her breast, “but I am giving out all the work
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I can spare from the store to women who are helping their husbands to pay house rent, or lift widows’ mortgage to stop interest on their little homes.” I wish I could forget the disappointment in the woman’s face, as I added: “You don’t look able to bear another burden of any sort. But I’ll sell you what you and your children need, and charge the bill to your husband.” The woman gave a hollow cough, as if to clear her throat, and said: “I am not strong any more, and I don’t care what becomes of me, but I promised these girls (apparently 12 and 14 years of age) that if they would work hard and make lots of butter, I’d buy them water-proof suits to wear to Sunday school. But (and her voice filled with sobs) he used the ‘butter money’ to help pay for his race horse, and the girls took on so about their water-proof suits that I’ve got to earn the money for them some way, or go crazy.” “I’ll sell you the goods and charge the bill to your husband,” I replied, huskily. She shook her head and said: “John doesn’t allow me to go in debt.” “If John confiscates your butter and cuts off your credit you are out of luck!” I said sharply. But I couldn’t sell her the goods, though I offered to cut and fit the suits without extra charge. She went her way sorrowing, and I never saw her again. The next Summer, I think it was in the following August, a funeral procession went through Albany—the bells tolled solemnly, and the mortal remains of that wife and mother, after having bequeathed another baby to the care of its over-burdened maternal grandmother, was laid away in the chuchyard. The clergy of several churches alluded to the burial in the next Sunday’s pulpits, offering condolence to the bereaved husband; but I, who had had a glimpse behind the scenes, pondered long and deeply over that “butter money,” the defrauded children, the deceased wife, and that thoroughbred race horse.
On another occasion, a woman came to me in great
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distress, telling me between her sobs that her husband had sold their household furniture and disappeared, and she was left destitute, with five little children. We had, in those days, no mother’s pension, no Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society, no Woman’s Sole Trader Bill and no rights, under the law, for any wife, which any husband was bound to respect—an amazing proof of the fact that the vast majority of men have been so much better to wives, through all the centuries, than the inherited laws of the receding barbaric ages from which we are slowly emerging, that we hear only now and then of a husband and father who is heartless enough to act toward his family as the law permits.
The woman of whom I was speaking dropped upon a chair and said: “There is a family on a central street that is going away. I could rent their house and keep my family together by taking in boarders; but I haven’t any furniture. If I could borrow six hundred dollars on the furniture, I could pay for it in installments, and I thought you might assist me.” I had more obligations of my own than I could carry comfortably, and had to send her away weeping. While I was racking my brain for some way to help her out, a neighbor called on some errand, to whom I related the woman’s story. “I’ll lend her the money and take a mortgage on her furniture,” said my friend, who, though not rich, was known as a benevolent man. As soon as I could leave the store, I sought the woman in her deserted home, where nothing was left but the weeping children, the family’s scanty clothing and a few battered chairs and dishes. To make matters worse, the rent would be due in a few days and the payment would take her last dollar. The memory of the look of relief that came into her face as I related my errand has amply repaid me for every slur or snub and slight that came to me afterwards in pursuit of my public mission. The transfer was soon made; the woman
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and her children took possession of the furnished home, and a half dozen boarders were installed, creating an income out of which she could supply her table and general operating expenses. Things were going well with her when her husband returned and took legal possession of everything. He repudiated the mortgage, which the wife had had no legal right to contract, and there was nothing left for her but the divorce courts. The family was scattered, my philanthropic neighbor lost his money, except what had been paid in two little installments, and the little religious world of Albany went on sighing over the degeneracy of the times that was making divorces easy. In looking backward, it seems strange to me now that I didn’t sooner see the need of votes for women.
* * *
One day, in the following Spring, after I had returned from Portland and San Francisco, with a stock of millinery and notions, when the weather was fine and everything seemed bright for a good season of trade, a well-to-do farmer drove up to the store in a handsome family carriage, drawn by a pair of spirited dapple grays. His wife and four little daughters accompanied him, and I felt sure of a good forenoon’s business. The wife asked for some hats for the little girls. I took from the shelves a pretty bandbox and uncovered a line of misses’ hats made of a then fashionable stuff, called “Neapolitan.” They were prettily trimmed and not expensive, and while the mother was making her selections, I kept up a running conversation with the father, largely because I always enjoy conversing with a sensible man, but more especially, in this case, to give his wife a chance to complete her choice of hats without suggestions from myself. The husband turned to her at last, with a matter-of-fact air, and said: “Have you made your selections?” She nodded assent, and he turned to me with a smile, and
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said, in the familiar vernacular of the pioneer: “What’s the damage?” I noticed that he hadn’t smiled when he looked at his wife, causing me to recall the familiar fact that men were oftener in the habit of smiling when talking to other people’s wives than their own. I smiled back at the husband as I said: “Four hats, at three dollars each, will be twelve dollars.” The custodian of the family purse turned to the woman and said impatiently: “That’s more money than I can spare for children’s hats!” Then he accosted me with another smile, and said: “Haven’t you got something cheaper?” I then handed down a lot of hats made of the woven fiber of the inner bark of the horse chestnut, which I kept for sale for the convenience of Indian berry pickers for “six bits” each. The profit to me on those hats was better than the Dutchman’s one per cent; that is, when an article was bought for one penny, I would sell it for two. My customer didn’t look at the hats, but he said: “They’ll do. Put up four of ‘em in a box so they won’t get jolted out of shape on a rough road.” The children all looked disappointed, and one of them said: “He thinks silver-mounted harness isn’t a bit too good for his horses, though!” They were all facing me, standing in front of the counter, and the woman turned to her children with the shake of her head and an admonishing look, which silenced their objections without another word. Then the wife looked up at the husband with a smile; something, no doubt, like the smiles she had bestowed upon him in their courting days. “Are you tired?” she asked, in a voice of solicitude. “No,” he replied bluntly. “What have I been doing to tire me?” “I left a butter firkin at Barrow’s store. I forgot it. Won’t you please go and get it?” asked the wife, sweetly. The man started off willingly, believing himself to be the head of his family. As soon as he was gone, the real head of the close corporation said to me: “Put up those four
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Neapolitan hats—two trimmed in straw-color for the brunettes, and two in blue for the little blondes.” As I was boxing her purchases for safe transportation, I said: “Won’t your husband notice the difference when he sees the hats?” “No!” she replied sharply. “He doesn’t know any more about a hat than I do about a horse collar! When he comes in he’ll pay you three dollars—all he meant to allow me to spend.” Then she put her hand in her pocket and drew out some half-dollar pieces. “Here,” she said, “are four dollars and a half. That’s all I have with me today. I’ll still owe you the balance—four dollars and a half. When I come to town again I’ll bring you the rest of the money.” The husband returned, threw down three dollars on the counter with a jingle, and off they went, apparently at peace with all the world, while I felt almost as guilty as if I had been compounding a felony. A few days afterward I was in a neighboring store, and I asked the merchant if he thought I’d ever see that balance of four dollars and a half. “Of course!” was his emphatic reply. “We merchants couldn’t make any profit on fancy goods if it wasn’t for what the women steal from their husbands.”
* * *
Years passed. I had crossed the Rubicon and burned my bridges behind me. I was lecturing in an Eastern Oregon town, on the need of Equal Rights for mothers, where I related the foregoing incident, and pointed its moral. The churches were not open for women speakers at that time, except in rarest intervals, so my work was handicapped by hall rent—always hard to collect. But I explained as best I could the fundamental, and now rarely disputed, fact that children inherit their tendencies for good or evil largely from the environment of their mothers. “Give them the fruit of their hands,” I cried, in closing. “Make women free financially, and let their
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own works praise them in the gates!” After the close of the lecture, and while people were crowding about me for handshaking and introductions, a nice-looking young man came up and introduced himself. I did not recall the name he gave me, so he related, as briefly as possible, the incident detailed above. “But I don’t think I ever met you before,” I said in surprise; “I thought all the children of the family were girls.” “Oh,” he replied, with a shrug, “things didn’t go right with me and the Gov, and I skipped. I came up into Eastern Oregon and—they say—I stole a horse! So I served time in Salem; but the time’s out now, and I am going back to make a new start.” “Were you really guilty?” I asked earnestly. He did not reply, but passed on through the crowd and I never saw him again.
Will the reader please remember the physiological and psychological fact that “When the parents eat sour grapes the children’s teeth are set on edge”?
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“Celebration of Oregon’s Fortieth Anniversary”
WOMEN IN OREGON HISTORY
The scientific world is slowly but surely returning to the original order of human affairs, in its attempts to reestablish the natural relations between the sexes, in which man and woman are the supplements, the counterparts, but never the opponents of each other. When God saw, in the beginning, “That it was not good for man to be alone,” and created woman as his companion, counsellor and co-worker, the influence of our sex in molding the affairs of state and nation began; and no matter how much or how often perverted or hindered, the darkest age has never wholly destroyed it.
The great Author of human destiny understood this fundamental law, when He placed fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, in the same home and family, and permitted each sex to associate with the other on a plane of governmental, social and domestic equality. Often, in these later years, when I have been addressing audiences in cities of the Middle West, and in the
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East and South, I have been asked why it was that the Pacific Northwest was so far in advance of the older settled portions of the United States, in its recognition of the Divine principle of equality of rights between the sexes, which originated in the human home. To this query I am always proud to reply, that the territorial domain of Oregon was the first great section of our Federal Union in which woman’s equal right to occupy and possess real estate, in fee simple, and on her own individual account, had ever been recognized or practiced.
All great uprisings of the race, looking to the establishment of a larger liberty for all the people, have first been generated in new countries, where plastic conditions adapt themselves to larger growths. It has ever been man’s province to go before, to find the path in the wilderness, and blaze the way for those who are to follow him. It is man’s mission to tunnel the mountains, rivet the bridges, build the highways, erect the habitations, navigate the seas, subdue and cultivate the soil. It has ever been the province of women to take joint possession, with him, of the crude homes that he has builded, and add to the rude beginnings of his border life those feminine endeavors, through which, as the community increases in numbers, a higher civilization asserts itself, till, as it grows in years and riches, the wilderness is made to blossom as the rose.
The interests of the sexes can never be identically the same; but they are always mutual, always interdependent, and every effort to separate them results, primarily, in discontent, and ultimately in failure.
When the true history of woman’s agency in up-building the State of Oregon, shall have been written, the world will marvel at the sublimity of the inspiration of the man, or men, who gave to the seal of the state its enduring motto, alis volat propriis, or “she flies with her own wings.”
You have heard, on this brilliant and important occa-
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sion, a great many spirited, time-honored and true rehearsals of the valiant deeds of Oregon’s pioneers and public-spirited men. No one reveres or honors more sincerely than I the noble courage, the sturdy manhood, the spirit of enterprise displayed by men whose names are inseparable from the history of this State’s upbuilding. It required men of brave hearts and firm footsteps to lead the way in the vast enterprises that have culminated, after all the weary years that we are here to commemorate, in this realization of our forty years of statehood. Their deeds of daring, danger and endurance have long been chronicled in song and story. Many of their honored effigies look down upon us today from enduring canvas, upon these tinted walls. Their silent images speak to us in rugged, yet kindly outlines, of bygone days, when, in their vigorous, ambitious youth, they crossed a barren, almost trackless continent, encountering roaring rivers and rock-ribbed mountains, in a country inhabited only by wild beasts and wilder savages. They speak to us of the prophetic vision with which they discerned this goodly land, long ere their eyes beheld the vernal shore “where rolls the Oregon.”
Other speakers have extolled the spirit of adventure characteristic of our Anglo-Saxon stock; a spirit which led men, like these, to hew their way through a perilous, toilsome pilgrimage, to this summerland of the sun-down seas. But many were the women, daily companions of these men of valor, with lives equal to theirs in rectitude and energy, whose names, as yet, have found no place in song and story, who did their part as bravely as did any man; and their memory remains today enshrined only in the hearts of rustic neighbors, or of their descendants, who knew and loved them in their obscurity. Many and yet, alas, how few, will linger but a few years longer, to gaze with dimming vision upon the serried ranks of our annual parades of men, who will march together with
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faltering steps, at our regular reunions, until at last, there shall be left no more survivors of our early pioneers.
What further shall we say of the women of Oregon, the wives, mothers and sweethearts of those once mighty men who are soon to vanish from human sight? Have they not as nobly and bravely borne their part as did the men? Were they not as faithful and brave as they in building up this vigorous, young commonwealth of the Pacific Northwest, which today includes the added states of Washington, Montana and Idaho, that together with this Mother of States, originally comprised the whole of Oregon?
That British Columbia obtained a valuable part of our Pacific Northwest Territory while your humble speaker was yet a child, is a part of our history of which I cannot stop to speak. All of you old Oregonians can still remember that spirited campaign of your youth, whose refrain was “Fifty-four forty or fight.” The younger Oregonians can read it in school histories.
I have before paid tribute to the bravery and endurance of man in subduing the primeval wilderness. It is now my grateful privilege to recognize woman’s part, often more difficult and dangerous, because accompanied by the added terrors of maternity, and always as important as man’s in building up a state from its crude beginnings into such fruition as we now behold.
We cannot forget the heroism of the women of the Whitman party, who were both victims and survivors of that horrible and historic massacre. We delight to honor the valor of those intrepid mothers of the mighty men of today, and yesterday, who crossed the untracked continent in ox wagons or on horseback, some of whom have lived to see their native sons and daughters take proper place as living monuments in commemoration of those days that tried men's souls. We cannot forget the faithful bravery of the lone woman in her rough log cabin in the beautiful
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hills of Southern Oregon, who, when her husband lay dead at her feet, from the treacherous aim of a cruel savage, kept the howling despoilers of her home at bay with her trusty rifle until daylight came, and brought her succor from the neighboring hills.
But my time is limited, and I cannot linger over facts already familiar to you all. Let it rather be my province to speak of those mothers in Oregon, whose patient endurance of poverty, hardship and toil brought them naught of public and little of private recompense, but whose children rise up and call them blessed, and whose husbands are known in the gates where they sit among the rulers of the land.
I have spoken of the inspiration that gave to us, and to posterity, the motto of the state seal of Oregon. But there was another inspiration, first voiced by Dr. Linn, of venerable memory, from whom one of our fairest and richest counties derived its name, and was afterwards put into practical shape in Congress by Delegate Samuel R. Thurston. It was an inspiration that placed Oregon as a star of first magnitude in our great galaxy of states, causing her to lead in recognizing woman’s inalienable right, as an individual, to the possession and ownership of the soil, irrespective of gift, devise or inheritance, antenuptial settlement or any sort of handicap, or special privilege whatsoever. I allude to the donation land law. A dozen years ago, before my frequent journeyings had taken me from Oregon (as they have often done in later years), I became acquainted with hundreds of Oregonians over the State, some of whom are doubtless present at this hour, many of whom have assured me with pride, and all with gratitude, that, but for this beneficent provision for the protection of home, not only their wives and children, but themselves also, would have no homes at all in which to abide.
Woman is the world’s home-maker, and she ought
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always to be the home-keeper, or at least the privileged and honored keeper of a sufficient area of mother-earth upon which to build and, if necessary, maintain a home. The woman who would neglect her home and family for the allurements of social frivolity, or the emoluments and honors of public life, is not the woman whose name will occupy a place among the annals of the Oregon Pioneers. If Napoleon had said to Madame de Stael that the greatest woman was she who had reared the best, wisest and most patriotic children, his famous answer to her famous query would have been divested of all its coarseness. Men of renown in all the ages have been sons of public-spirited, patriotic, home-loving women. “All that I am I owe to my mother,” said our illustrious Washington; and our martyred Lincoln, in speaking of the deeds of heroism that characterized the women who bore the soldiers, who bore the arms in our civil war, said: “I go for giving the elective franchise to all who bear the burdens of government, by no means excluding women.”
I would not have you think for a minute that wise women would lessen paternal responsibility in caring for the home. Man ought to be, and generally is, or is supposed to be, the home-provider. But, that he has often failed to keep his part of the mutual contract, try he how he may, full many a husband can testify, who is living on his wife’s half of the donation land claim, which, happily for all concerned, was recognized by law as hers, in the beginning of their married life, and which she has ever since refused to sell, or mortgage, for any consideration whatsoever.
I pray you to indulge me while I say that I have never yet met a husband who has failed to make himself an agreeable and respected companion to the wife of his bosom, the mother of his children, if she possessed, in her own right, the home that sheltered them. Nor have I ever known any woman of Oregon, when so situated,
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to be compelled to sue for divorce on account of “cruel and inhuman treatment, making life burdensome.”
Right here is a pointer for the relief of our overcrowded divorce courts, Mr. Governor.
That the donation land law has its abuses, we all admit. The tracts of land it donated were too large, and the temptations for girl children to marry prematurely to secure land were too great to create, always, the happiest results. But the principle was all right, as to the legality of woman’s ownership of a home, and ought, in modified form, to be revived and continued indefinitely, as it surely will, as civilization progresses and enlightenment and liberty increase.
How largely the State of Oregon is indebted to the donation land act for the origin of the spirit of freedom, justice and patriotism that prompted patriotic women to send their sons and grandsons to face death in their heroic endeavor to “avenge the Maine”; how much the State owes, primarily, to that same patriotism for the promptitude of women in forming the Emergency Corps of the State, or becoming auxiliary to the Red Cross Society, for the benefit of our boys in blue, or how far that experience has gone to increase the zeal with which they now come knocking the gates of state government, for admission within its portals, to take their own position among the electors, where there shall be no more “taxation without representation” to vex the spirits of our lawmakers, with its biennial protest, I am sure I cannot tell you. But I know, and so do you, Mr. Governor of Oregon, and all these honorable gentlemen, that the spirit of liberty and patriotism, like that of necessity and ambition, is in the air. It cannot longer be restricted by the fiat of sex, or suppressed by the fiat of votes. The women of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Idaho, today enjoy their full and free enfranchisement; the Governors, the legislatures, the judiciary and the men-voters of all those states, speak as a
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unit in praise of their women voters. And shall Oregon, the proud Mother of three great states, in the youngest of which the women are voters already—shall she refuse, through her men-voters, to ratify the honorable action of the Legislative Assembly, which has given them the glorious opportunity to celebrate the dawn of the Twentieth Century by making it a year of jubilee for the wives and mothers of the pioneers, to whose influence the up-building of the state is, by their own confession, so largely due? Forbid it, men and brethren! Forbid it, Almightly God!
And now, as I close, I beg leave to present for your edification, the grandest poem that, from the Oregon Woman’s standpoint, has ever been written by Oregon’s greatest poet, Joaquin Miller, entitled
THE MOTHERS OF MEN
The bravest battle that ever was fought!
Shall I tell you where and when?
On the maps of the world you will find it not—
‘Twas fought by the mothers of men.
Nay, not with cannon or battle shot,
With sword or nobler pen!
Nay, not with eloquent words or thought,
From mouths of wonderful men!
But, deep in a walled-up woman’s heart—
Of woman who would not yield,
But bravely, silently, bore her part—
Lo, there is that battlefield!
No marshaling troop, no bivouac song,
No banners to gleam and wave;
But Oh! these battles, they last so long—
From babyhood to the grave.
Yet, faithful still, as a bridge of stars
She fights in her walled-up town—
Fights on and on in the endless war,
Then, silent, unseen, goes down.
Oh, ye with banners and battleshot.
And soldiers to shout and praise!
I tell you the kingliest victories fought,
Were fought in these silent ways.
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Oh, spotless woman in a world of shame;
With splendid and silent scorn
Go back to God as white as you came—
The kingliest warrior born.
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