Idaho History

This woman partnered with Susan B. Anthony to bring suffrage to the West

The renovated Idaho State Museum is complete and it’s not your average museum.

The Idaho State Museum will open to the public in Julia Davis Park in Downtown Boise on Friday, October 12. The museum features 46 different interactive experiences to allow visitors to learn about Idaho and the state's history.
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The Idaho State Museum will open to the public in Julia Davis Park in Downtown Boise on Friday, October 12. The museum features 46 different interactive experiences to allow visitors to learn about Idaho and the state's history.

Abigail Scott Duniway probably did more did more to secure the vote for Western women than any other one person.

She certainly won the support of the Idaho Statesman, as this item of March 25, 1886, tells us: “Mrs. A.L. Duniway, the founder of the Portland New Northwest, and its present senior editor, is announced in that paper as being now on a visiting and lecturing tour through eastern Oregon and Idaho. Mrs. Duniway may be expected to arrive in this city in a few days, where she will find many friends and admirers who remember her pleasant visit here and her entertaining and instructive lectures of ten years ago.”

Abigail was born on the family farm near Groveland, Illinois, on Oct. 2, 1834. Her father, John Scott, against the wishes of his wife who was in poor health, organized a party of 30 people and 5 ox-drawn wagons to travel west some 2,400 miles on the Oregon Trail. Abigail’s mother died near Fort Laramie in June, and her youngest brother, Willie, 3, died in August along the Burnt River in eastern Oregon.

On Aug. 1, 1853, after teaching school for a few months, Abigail married Benjamin Duniway, a farmer. The couple had six children. When her husband was seriously injured in an accident with a runaway team, Abigail became the sole supporter of her large family. She taught, wrote and for five years operated a millinery shop.

Abigail was a prolific writer, and her first book “Captain Gray’s Company; or Crossing the Plains and Living in Oregon” (1859) was the first novel published in Oregon. She would write 21 more novels, serialized in “The New Northwest,” the weekly newspaper she had founded in 1870 devoted to the cause of securing woman’s suffrage.

In 1871, Abigail moved her family to Portland where she joined the small group of women devoted to the cause. The group evolved into the Oregon State Equal Suffrage Association, and Abigail would serve as its president for many years. Abigail teamed up with Susan B. Anthony, a national leader in the fight to give women the vote, after she heard Anthony speak to the Washington Territorial Legislature in October of 1871 in support of a bill enfranchising women. The bill failed, but Duniway persuaded Anthony to join her in an arduous 2,400-mile lecture tour of Oregon and Washington.

Perhaps the most memorable description of Abigail Scott Duniway’s strategy to secure the vote for women is this: “Men must be convinced through gentle persuasion and humor. Men like to be coaxed. They will not be driven.”

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@gmail.com.

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