Woodstock Library hosts the late Abigail Scott Duniway

by: Elizabeth Ussher Groff At the Woodstock Branch Library, Jane Van Boskirk, dressed as Abigail Scott Duniway, dramatized the life of Duniway and her tireless effort that finally won the right to vote for Oregon women just 100 years ago. The dramatization was based on a script written by playwright and PSU professor Charles Deemer, as adapted by Van Boskirk.

Duniway Elementary School in the Eastmoreland neighborhood is named for writer, newspaper publisher, orator, and suffragette Abigail Scott Duniway (1834-1915).

Although Duniway Elementary School children and their parents know of Duniway as a historical figure, many people may not be familiar with the suffragette who led a relentless campaign for Oregon women's right to vote. 2012 marks the centennial of the passage of that historic law.

At the Woodstock Branch Library on November 13th, before an audience of twenty people, Jane Van Boskirk brought Duniway to life. Van Boskirk is an actress who has toured Oregon during the past two decades enacting the lives of various women who accomplished 'firsts' in some historical capacity. She is known for her passionate and colorful dramatizations.

Van Boskirk was a striking figure, dressed in a long black dress of the 1900's. To the audience it was as if Duniway herself were telling her own story.

'Oh dear, what can the matter be, why are they wanting to vote?' sang Van Boskirk in a humorous rendition of the traditional children's nursery rhyme, 'Johnny's So Long at the Fair.'

As Van Boskirk became Duniway, a story of hardship and struggle unfolded. When she was fourteen, Duniway left Illinois with her family, and headed west on the Oregon Trail.

'We whittled our lives to the bare necessities, and headed west. We buried mother on the trail, with a tree marking the grave.'

Duniway witnessed the 'terrible plight of women', who were getting up before sunrise and working until midnight as they served their men and families in a rough and rugged new life.

As a young adult, Duniway decided these strong but disenfranchised women should have the right to vote, so she became active in the suffrage movement. 'I began lecturing. It was a hectic way of life, but I loved every minute of it.'

Duniway led her campaign throughout Oregon, Washington, and California. Her brother, Harvey Scott, tried to foil her suffrage efforts, using his position as editor of the 'Oregonian' newspaper to keep the issue from gaining momentum.

'Harvey was my best friend, my mentor,' Van Buskirk (as Duniway) declared - but he was also her opponent and political antagonist. She saw him easily gain position and privilege, while she struggled to win respect.

'I became a farmer, teacher, milliner, editor of my own newspaper [The New Northwest],' said Van Boskirk's Duniway. But no matter, Duniway was criticized for her suffrage campaign, and became the target of vicious rumors.

In 1900 when every newspaper in the state - except the 'Oregonian' - supported women's right to vote, Duniway found she couldn't forgive her brother for fueling the defeat of her cause.

'On June 1, 1900, the 'Oregonian' came out with a front page editorial written by my brother, Harvey. He said the women's vote can't be good for government, society, or for woman herself.'

However, Duniway and other suffrage activists - such as Susan B. Anthony, who had traveled from the east coast to support the Oregon cause - did not give up. After five unsuccessful attempts, Oregon voters finally passed a law in 1912 allowing Oregon women the right to vote.

The first actual ballot vote after the law passed was on November 3, 1914, and Duniway's vote was the first cast by a woman in the state of Oregon. Duniway passed away only eleven months after that historic vote.

For more information on the upcoming events commemorating 100 years of Oregon women's right to vote, go online to: www.centuryofaction.org .