This year marks the centennial of woman suffrage in the United States. Did you know that Oregon’s women won their right to vote eight years earlier in 1912? Getting this law passed was about more than just the right to vote. It was a path for women to make their way into politics.

The Oregon State Capitol Foundation sponsored an exhibit to celebrate the 19th Amendment: “Woman Suffrage — More Than Just the Vote.” The exhibit highlighted some of the most influential Oregon women who left their mark on our state’s politics. It was a cooperative effort between the Oregon State Archives and Civics Education Director, Mary Beth Herkert, who coordinated with the foundation’s Capitol History Gateway project at the Capitol.

The exhibit closed early because of current world events around COVID-19. But we want to shine a light on this important time in our history. You can also look forward to our special speaker series event on woman suffrage later this year.

Oregon’s women paved the way

Women’s rights advocate Abigail Scott Duniway was a trailblazer in the fight for voting rights in Oregon. Abigail was a writer who published The New Northwest newspaper (1871-1887). It became the voice for women in their push for economic and social rights. Abigail looked beyond Oregon and attended national suffrage conventions. She later organized a tour with activist Susan B. Anthony here in the Pacific Northwest.

Abigail energized a movement and the Oregon Woman Suffrage Association was born. Women marched, protested, lobbied and even went to jail. Her efforts put women’s voting rights on the ballot again in the 1912 general election.

The campaign was successful this time. Oregon’s male voters approved voting rights for women that year. Gov. Oswald West asked Abigail to write and sign the Oregon Equal Suffrage Proclamation. She then became the first woman to vote in Oregon in 1914. Her voter registration card and the signed Proclamation were on display in the Woman Suffrage exhibit.

The West fueled a national movement

Our local activists continued marching around the country. They called out Oregon and other Western states as examples. Their work continued to strengthen the movement nationally.

After five more years of high-profile parades and protests, Congress passed the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919. Ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, the amendment’s official adoption was on Aug. 26, 1920.

Other Oregon women highlighted in the exhibit include suffragist Harriet “Hattie” Redmond and those who represented the three branches of government in Oregon over time:

  • Judicial – Beatrice Morrow Cannady, Betty Roberts, and Adrienne C. Nelson.
  • Legislative – Kathryn Clarke, Maurine Neuberger, Margaret Carter, and Susan Castillo.
  • Executive – Norma Paulus and Barbara Roberts. 

“The exhibit gave a different perspective on the importance of the movement and focused on the first women in Oregon government who were its pioneers. Winning the right to vote opened doors for women to hold positions of power within government as judges and legislators and to run for President. It changed society by creating roads for women to become CEOs of corporations, doctors, lawyers and much more.”

Mary Beth Herkert, Civics Education Director, Oregon Secretary of State Executive Office (Oregon’s first woman Archivist as of 2005)

Stay tuned for a special presentation honoring woman suffrage

Join us later this year to hear the full story at our speaker series event on “Woman Suffrage: 100 Years.” Kimberly Jensen and Jan Dilg will give a presentation that dives deeper into woman suffrage as a tool for social change and reform. You will learn how suffrage empowered women and later helped other minorities in social movements. We will keep you posted about this special event. Stay tuned!

Discover more about the history of Oregon’s laws that affect you today, including woman suffrage, here.