Eighty-three years ago this week, Abigail Scott Duniway painfully began writing Oregon’s Equal Suffrage Proclamation, which gave women the right to vote.
At 78, she needed several days to complete the single-page document because of the pain in her hands.
But by Nov. 30, 1912, she had finished. She donned a small white cape with dark bows and joined Gov. Oswald West for the historic signing, ending a battle she had fought for 41 years.
Early next year, the University of Oregon’s Knight Library will make the document and the rest of the Duniway family papers available to the public. The papers will form the cornerstone of the library’s collection focusing on the history of women in Oregon politics.
Duniway had kept a copy of the proclamation in an overstuffed scrapbook amid tattered pages of suffrage speeches and newspaper clippings. She had a picture of the event, too, of her sitting at a table signing the proclamation with the governor.
Since her death in 1915, the momentos have been the property of her family. After the papers had passed through two generations, her grandson David Duniway donated them and those from other family members to the university.
It has taken a part-time library worker nearly 18 months to catalog the papers, which take up 30 feet of shelf space. The collection includes Duniway’s scrapbooks, poems and letters to her children and the papers of her grandfather, James Scott, who lived in North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky in the late 1700s.
Only copies will be available of some of the more fragile items, including the journal the 17-year-old Duniway, nicknamed “Jennie,” kept as her family traveled the Oregon Trail. Both her mother and her baby brother died during the trip.
The well-worn journal was the basis of Duniway’s 1859 novel, “Capt. Gray’s Company,” which was among the first books published in Oregon, said Shane Pieren, an undergraduate and library manuscript processor charged with cataloging the Duniway papers.
Despite never finishing high school, “Abigail had an eloquent, poetic writing style,” said Pieren.
She married Ben Duniway in 1853, just a year after her family arrived in Oregon, and the couple operated a farm in Yamhill County.
During the next 20 years, the family lost their farm, her husband became disabled when a wagon rolled over his chest, and she went to work teaching school and running a boarding house.
The Duniways, who had four sons and a daughter, moved to Albany, where Abigail set up a millinery shop and taught school to support the family.