Abigail Scott Duniway and Women’s Suffrage


Abigail Scott Duniway. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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In 1912, Oregon became the seventh state in the Union to pass an amendment granting the right of suffrage to women. This lesson aims to personalize the effects of this amendment for students via an in-class voting exercise, then deepen their understanding of the issues framing the suffrage debate through further research on the Historic Oregon Newspapers website.

Oregon Common Core State Standards

Language Arts Standards:

  • ELA.RI.4.1 Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • ELA.RI.4.3 Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.
  • ELA.RI.4.9 Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.
  • ELA.RL.4.9 Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics (e.g., opposition of good and evil) and patterns of events (e.g., the quest) in stories, myths, and traditional literatures from different cultures.
  • ELA.W.4.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
  • ELA.SL.4.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • ELA.SL.4.1a Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion.
  • ELA.SL.4.1b Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions and carry out assigned roles.
  • ELA.SL.4.1c Pose and respond to specific questions to clarify or follow up on information, and make comments that contribute to the discussion and link to the remarks of others.

Social Studies Standards:

  • Historical Knowledge 4.2 Explain how key individuals and events influenced the early growth and changes in Oregon.
  • Historical Thinking 4.5 Distinguish between fact and fiction in historical accounts by comparing documentary sources on historical figures and events with fictional characters and events in stories.
  • Government 4.15 Describe and evaluate how historical Oregon governments affected groups within the state (citizens, foreigners, women, class systems, minority groups, tribes).


  • Historic Oregon Newspapers website
  • Paper ballot or adapted ballot (see example in PDF Download)
  • Place to “go to the polls” (optional)
  • Document camera, whiteboard, or SMART Board
  • Chart paper
  • Markers

Key Vocabulary

  • Consensus
  • Suffrage
  • Tabulate
  • Ballot
  • Compare
  • Contrast


  • Preparation:
    • Optional: Set up an area of the classroom that students can experience “going to the polls.” This may include a table in the corner or blockers at desk without a box.
    • Print copies of the paper ballot (included below); set up survey questions using technology (such as Google Docs or Survey Monkey) or written questions on whiteboard/document camera/SMART Board.
  • Introduction: Introduce key vocabulary.
    • Some activities to introduce vocabulary are jigsaw share, with students taking one vocabulary word and becoming experts to present to fellow classmates; whole group discussion of vocabulary words; and word search.
  • Introduce activity: Introduce simulation prior to the topic of study.
    • Inform students that you would determine the popular—or consensus—opinion of the class on a number of topics.
    • Ask them to “go to the polls” and cast their votes on a secret ballot. A sample paper ballot is provided below. However, you may wish to change the questions to align to your classroom—the intent is to pose questions whose responses would be expected to skew along boy/girl lines.
    • To further simulation, you may appoint official ballot collectors or counters to tally up the ballots when finished.
    • Have official ballot collectors or counters tally up ballots for ONLY boys, publicly displaying the tally marks on SMART Board/whiteboard/document camera so the class may review them.
  • Discussion:
  • Some discussion questions to consider:
    • Are the boys in class largely satisfied with the results? How about the girls?
    • How confident did the boys feel when they found out only their votes would count?
    • How did the girls feel when they learned they would be left out?
    • To what extent does the result of this vote accurately capture the opinion of the whole class?
    • Was this vote truly fair and democratic?
  • Re-tabulate ballots including both boys and girls.
  • Discussion:
  • Some discussion questions to consider:
    • Were the results of any poll results changed by including both boys’ and girls’ votes?
    • How were the votes affected?
    • Is this result more or less fair and representative than the boys-only vote?
    • Would a girls-only vote be any more or less fair?
  • Newspaper articles to support lesson:

 Extension Activity Ideas

Activities can be modified several different ways depending on grade level and focus of study. Listed are some activity ideas that can be adapted and extended to and for any grade level.


Background About the Life and Work of Abigail Scott Duniway

Abigail Scott Duniway was Oregon’s most prominent early advocate of women’s rights. From 1871 to 1887, she published the New Northwest, a Portland-based weekly newspaper dedicated to women’s issues and rights, particularly suffrage—the legal right to vote and to run for elected office.

Abigail was born in Illinois in 1834; when she was eighteen years old, her family traveled 2,400 miles over the Oregon Trail and settled near Lafayette in the Willamette Valley. Her mother and her youngest brother died on the journey west. In 1859, she wrote a book inspired by her pioneer experience, Captain Gray’s Company, or Crossing the Plains and Living in Oregon, which was the first novel to be professionally published in Oregon. In 1866, Duniway, along with her husband, Benjamin, and their five children, moved to the town of Albany. Benjamin Duniway had been injured in a farming accident, and Abigail was thrust into the role of providing for her family. After working for a time, she would prove her business acumen by opening a hat shop, which she successfully ran for five years before relocating to Portland to launch the New Northwest.

Eighteen seventy-one—the year of the New Northwest’s debut—also saw the first campaign to try to win the vote for Oregon women.In the pages of the New Northwest, Duniway advocated not only for voting rights, but also for greater social and legal equality for women in general. In managing this effort, Duniway was personally advised by the prominent national activist Susan B. Anthony, who came west for three months to help Duniway strategize and wage the battle. The two women became fast friends but also discovered differences in their personalities and modes of tactical thinking that would, through the years, place a strain on their relationship. Anthony considered Duniway stubborn, overbearing, and disorganized, while Duniway, for her part, regarded Anthony as something of an eastern elitist.

Background on the State and U.S. Constitutions

Complete text of the U.S. Constitution is available from a number of online sources, including usconstitution.net (http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html). The most relevant sections to this discussion will be the 14th Amendment and 19th Amendment.

As it was originally written and ratified, the U.S. Constitution made no direct mention, positive or negative, of the right of women to vote—social conventions of the day simply implied that women did not have that right. The nature of the suffragists’ struggle was striving to change this mind-set. In the pages of New Northwest is an Oregon suffragist’s speech arguing that the Constitution, in fact, guarantees women the right to vote:

“The Constitutional Right of Women to Vote: Read Before the Yamhill County Woman Suffrage Association May 17, 1876” (Note: Story begins top of column 5.)

Posted in Common Core: English Language Arts Grade 4, Common Core: Social Science Grade 4, K-12 Lesson Plans

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