Abigail Scott Duniway

Women's Rights in the West

Abigail Scott Duniway
Abigail Scott Duniway. Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Dates: October 22, 1834 - October 11, 1915

Occupation: American western pioneer and settler, women's rights activist, women's suffrage activist, newspaper publisher, writer, editor

Known for: role in winning women's suffrage in the Northwest,, including Oregon, Washington and Idaho; publishing a pro-women's rights newspaper in Oregon: first woman publisher in Oregon; wrote first book commercially published in Oregon

Also known as: Abigail Jane Scott

About Abigail Scott Duniway

Abigail Scott Duniway was born Abigail Jane Scott in Illinois. At age seventeen she moved with her family to Oregon, in a wagon pulled by oxen, over the Oregon Trail. Her mother and a brother died en route, and her mother was buried near Fort Laramie. The surviving family members settled in Lafayette in Oregon Territory.


Abigail Scott and Benjamin Duniway were married in 1853. They had a daughter and five sons. While working together on their "backwoods farm," Abigail wrote and published a novel, Captain Gray's Company, in 1859, the first book commercially published in Oregon.

In 1862, her husband made a bad financial deal -- without her knowledge -- and lost the farm. Son after that he was injured in an accident, and it fell to Abigail to support the family.

Abigail Scott Duniway ran a school for a while, and then opened a millinary and notions shop. She sold the shop and moved the family to Portland in 1871, where her husband got a job with the U.S. Customs Service.

Women's Rights

Beginning in 1870, Abigail Scott Duniway worked for women's rights and women's suffrage in the Pacific Northwest. Her experiences in business helped convince her of the importance of such equality. She founded a newspaper, New Northwest, in 1871, and served as its editor and a writer until she closed the paper in 1887. She published her own serialized novels in the paper as well as advocating for women's rights, including married women's property rights and the right to vote.

Among her first projects was managing a speaking tour of the Northwest by suffragist Susan B. Anthony in 1871. Anthony advised her on politics and organizing for women's rights.

That same year, Abigail Scott Duniway founded the Oregon State Women Suffrage Association, and in 1873 she organized the Oregon State Equal Suffrage Association, for which she served for a while as president. She traveled around the state, lecturing and advocating for women's rights. She was criticized, attacked verbally and even subjected to physical violence for her positions.

In 1884, a women's suffrage referendum was defeated in Oregon, and the Oregon State Equal Suffrage Association fell apart. In 1886, Duniway's only daughter, at age 31, died of tuberculosis, with Duniway at her bedside.

From 1887 to 1895 Abigail Scott Duniway lived in Idaho, working for suffrage there. A suffrage referendum finally succeeded in Idaho in 1896.

Duniway returned to Oregon, and revived the suffrage association in that state, beginning another publication, The Pacific Empire. Like her earlier paper, the Empire advocated for women's rights and included Duniway's serialized novels. Duniway's position on alcohol was pro-temperance but anti-prohibition, a position which subjected her to attacks both by the business interests supporting alcohol sales and the growing prohibition forces including within the women's rights movement. In 1905, Duniway published a novel, From the West to the West, with the main character moving from Illinois to Oregon.

Another woman suffrage referendum failed in 1900. The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) organized a suffrage referendum campaign in Oregon for 1906, and Duniway left the state suffrage organization and did not participate. The 1906 referendum failed.

Abigail Scott Duniway then returned to the suffrage fight, and organized new referenda in 1908 and 1910, both of which failed. Washington passed suffrage in 1910. For the 1912 Oregon campaign, Duniway's health was failing, and she was in a wheelchair, and she was unable to participate much in the work.

When that 1912 referendum finally succeeded in granting women the full franchise, the governor asked Abigail Scott Duniway to write the proclamation in recognition of her long role in the struggle. Duniway was the first woman in her county to register to vote, and is credited with being the first woman in the state to actually vote.

Later Life

Abigail Scott Duniway completed and published her autobiography, Path Breaking, in 1914. She died the following year.

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Anne Roelofson (of German, French and English heritage, born in Kentucky)
  • Father: John Tucker Scott (of Scotch-Irish and English heritage, born in Kentucky)
  • Siblings: one of ten children; one brother was Harvey W. Scott who ran another newspaper in Portland, Oregon, in which he publicly opposed women's suffrage

Marriage, Children:

  • husband: Benjamin C. Duniway (married August 2, 1853; vocation)
  • children:
    • one daughter, the eldest: Clara
    • five sons: Willis, Hubert, Wilkie, Clyde, and Ralph

Books About Abigail Scott Duniway:

  • Gayle R Bandow. "In pursuit of a purpose": Abigail Scott Duniway and the New Northwest.
  • Ruth Barnes Moynihan. Rebel for Rights: Abigail Scott Duniway.
  • Dorothy Nafus Morrison. Ladies Were Not Expected: Abigail Scott Duniway and Women's Rights.
  • Elinor Richey. The Unsinkable Abigail: In forty years of scraping and scrapping for women's rights, Abigail Scott Duniway never lost her nerve or wicked tongue.
  • Debra Shein. Abigail Scott Duniway.
  • Helen K. Smith. The Presumptuous Dreamers: A Sociological History of the Life & Times of Abigail Scott Duniway, 1834-1871.
  • Helen K. Smith. Presumptuous Dreamers: A Sociological History of the Life and Times of Abigail Scott Duniway, 1872-1876.
  • Helen K. Smith. Presumptuous Dreamers: A Sociological History of the Life & Times of Abigail Scott Duniway, 1877-1912.
  • Jean M. Ward, and Elaine A. Maveety. Yours for Liberty: Selections from Abigail Scott Duniway's Suffrage Newspaper by Abigail Scott Duniway.

Books by Abigail Scott Duniway:

  • Captain Gray's company, or, Crossing the plains and living in Oregon.
  • Path Breaking: An Autobiographical History of the Equal Suffrage Movement in Pacific Coast States.
  • From the West to the West.
  • True Temperance.
  • Edna and John: A Romance of Idaho Flat.
  • David And Anna Matson.
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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Abigail Scott Duniway." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/abigail-scott-duniway-biography-3530704. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2020, August 26). Abigail Scott Duniway. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/abigail-scott-duniway-biography-3530704 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Abigail Scott Duniway." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/abigail-scott-duniway-biography-3530704 (accessed March 22, 2023).