— Mrs. Catherine A. Coburn Relates Instances of Injustice.

I have never been a militant suffragist and do not answer at all to the title ‘suffragette.’ But I have been for many years an ardent believer in equal political rights and privileges for men and women. Why? Listen. Many years ago, when I was a young widow with four young children to support, I applied for the position of teacher of the district school at Canemah, a small village on the east bank of the Willamette River just above the Falls.

I had been left by the sudden death of my husband with four little daughters, a small home and without means of support. My thoughts turned to school teaching, in which, in my girlhood, I had had some experience, and after several weeks of preparatory study I presented myself before Mr. Pope, then County School Superintendent of Clackamas County, for examination in the ordinary branches then taught in the public schools of the state, and was fortunate enough to secure a certificate of the first grade. Equipped with this certificate I presented myself before the good district fathers–three men with whom I had been acquainted for years and to whom my circumstances were well known, and in common parlance ‘applied for the school.’ They were most kind, examined my certificate individually and collectively, and made answer that I could ‘have the school’ asking: ‘What wages do you want?’ ‘Fifty dollars a month”, I replied. Dead silence fell over the three as they looked at each other with surprised. even astonished eyes. I waited, wondering in my unsophisticated mind what was the matter. Finally, one of the two arose, took a turn around the little room and stopped before me, his thumbs in the armholes of his vest, and said in tones of mingled rebuke and surprise: ‘We can get a man to teach for that.” But I protested no man can get a better certificate than I have shown you. and I am accustomed to children, their management and instruction.

But the district fathers were obdurate. insisting that they could “get a man to teach the school for $50 month, and that it would be absurd to pay a woman such a price.” The result was that I had to teach the school for $40 a month, which I did conscientiously, but with a rankling sense of injustice in my heart.

Clearly something was the matter. My capability in this contest was not questioned. But my sex was a bar when I came to compete with men in my struggle for a livelihood. Custom? Yes. But upon what was that custom founded? Upon the might which made right in the early history of the race and later upon woman’s inequality before the law through the usurpation of the law-making power by man. Traced a little further, to her total lack of political power. I had taken my first lesson in equal rights – in what may be called political sexology. I have taken many since, and all along the years that have intervened, years of taxation without representation, government without consent; years wherein my political opinions have been as strongly and firmly based as have those of any man with whom I have worked. I have waited and watched and hoped for the day of woman’s enfranchisement. An ardent partisan. I have never been allowed to express my preference at the polls for the candidate whom I hoped to see succeed. From the President of the United States, for whom, as an American citizen, I have longed to vote for many years as a matter of personal pride in citizenship, to the Assessor who has placed an arbitrary valuation upon my property, and the Sheriff who has collected my taxes. I have had decided preferences, yet have never been allowed to express this preference where alone it would count – in the ballot box. Do I believe in equal rights? Well, rather. I am a woman but not necessarily a fool. A human entity—not a mollusc.

 February 25, 1912. The Morning Oregonian

The Women’s Sufferage Proclamation was signed by Governor Oswald West on November 30, 1912. It was passed by a vote of 61,265 to 57,104 at a general election held on November 5, 1912.

Abigail Scott Duniway, after a lifetime of advocating for the vote for women, also signed the proclamation. She was 79 years old.

George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).

A bed owned by her is on exhibit at the Museum of the Oregon Territory, 211 Tumwater Drive, Oregon City.


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