'X 300' — the Equal Suffrage Amendment

After signing the womenís suffrage proclamation on Nov. 30, 1912, Abigail Scott Duniway hands Oregon Gov. Oswald West a certificate of life membership in the National Equal Suffrage Association.Library of Congress

Congratulations, Oregon ladies! 100 years ago, you got 61,265 men to give you the right to vote.

No one in Oregon receives more credit for that accomplishment than Abigail Jane Scott Duniway, who spent nearly all of her life in the cause of women's equality with men and the fight for the right to vote.

The world already was changing

On Nov. 12, 1912, even before the suffrage proclamation was signed, women in Grants Pass were registering to vote. First to sign was Mrs. Bess Gunison Conklin, president of the Southern Oregon Suffrage League. It was quite a coincidence when Mrs. Anna Conklin was the first to register in Medford, although the women and their husbands were unrelated.

Carol Van Nice lost her write-in attempt to become school superintendent to the incumbent, but she managed to garner 124 male votes.

The first women to vote in Southern Oregon were the 47 who lived in the town of Rogue River. The next day, Dec. 3, 1912, elections were held in Eagle Point and Talent.

In Talent, Mrs. Caroline Vogell had declined to run for mayor following the lead of Mrs. Mary Reddy in Medford, who said, "We worked for the ballot, not to hold office, but to have our say in who should."

Talent did have a victory for women — the first woman elected to office in Oregon. Miss Leta Luke became Talent city recorder with a majority of 26 votes over her male opponent.

In Ashland, 60 percent of the votes were cast by women; perhaps that is why a measure to once again allow the sale of alcohol went down to defeat.

"I was taught from childhood that a woman's lot was a lifetime of unpaid servitude and sacrifice," she wrote. "It was then that I began my lonely struggle for equal rights for the mothers of the race."

That struggle included newspaper publishing, book writing and lectures, and took her to Jacksonville more than once. In 1886, while walking on a wooden California Street sidewalk, eggs flew through the air, smashed against buildings and fell at her feet. Only one found its mark, and Abigail laughed it off.

"Only one egg hit us, and that was fresh and sweet," she said.

To see these big, strong men attack a tiny woman with such "fragile artillery" was just too comical to believe, and by the time the boys burned her in effigy, she was already out of town.

By Nov. 5, 1912, the question of a woman's right to vote had been on Oregon's ballot five times and failed. Abigail had played a major part in every contest, but now that she had just turned 79 and was seriously ill, this sixth try, designated as measure "X 300," would likely be her last.

In an age before polling, the question was still up in the air. It seemed that urban areas were in favor, but "in the rural districts it did not appear to have an over good chance."

Mail Tribune editor George Putnam urged a yes vote and congratulated Abigail on her birthday.

"Her indomitable pluck, her untiring energy, her wonderful enthusiasm," he said, "has brought the new idea to the verge of victory in Oregon."

In Ashland, Carol Van Nice, 27, a recently accredited teacher, was declared the first woman to run for office in all of Oregon when she asked men to write-in her name for county school superintendent on the ballot. She reasoned that if X 300 passed, she would be eligible for the office.

Although the final count would take days, the women and their supporters were confident of victory and began to celebrate.

Statewide, the margin of victory for the Equal Suffrage Amendment was 4,161 votes, or 51.7 percent of the vote. Jackson County did better with a 919-vote margin equaling 60 percent of the vote.

On Nov. 30, 1912, Gov. Oswald West signed the official proclamation that made equal suffrage effective in the state. To honor Abigail, West had asked her to hand-write the proclamation and be with him so they could sign it together. It had taken the frail woman nearly a week to complete the document, writing just a few words a day. Abigail dipped her pen in the ink well and signed her name below the governor's.

"There," she said, putting the pen on the desk. "It is a fact at last."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.

Reader Reaction
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form. New comments are only accepted for two weeks from the date of publication.