A Feminist History of Oregon, from Abigail Scott Duniway to 'Bitch'

Oregon's legacy is rooted in women shipyard workers, suffragettes, sci-fi authors, legal abortion, and kick-ass senators. Get inspired!

By Marty Patail March 2, 2015 Published in the March 2015 issue of Portland Monthly


While Native tribes in the area were more balanced, Portland’s white population skews disproportionately male, typical of most frontier towns: 653 men to 164 women.


An 18-year-old Abigail Scott Duniway, Oregon’s future “Mother of Equal Suffrage,” arrives with her family via the Oregon Trail.


Oregon allows widows with children to vote in school district elections.


Duniway starts a weekly paper in Portland called the New Northwest, dedicated to women’s rights. The publication continues printing until 1887.


Following a visit from national suffragist Susan B. Anthony, Oregon women found the Oregon Woman Suffrage Association to advance their right to vote in all elections.


A new state law allows unmarried women to vote in school district elections.


Missourian Bethenia Owens-Adair completes her medical degree and sets up a private practice in Portland, becoming Oregon’s first female physician.


The wives of some of the most prominent men in Portland launch the Portland Women’s Union (later the Portland Women’s Foundation) to provide a safe, cultured space for newly arrived single women.


Local suffragists hold the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention in Portland to coincide with the Lewis and Clark Exposition.


The US Supreme Court hands down a landmark decision in Muller v. Oregon, upholding a state law that limited women’s work hours to 10 hours per day.


Lola Greene Baldwin is sworn in as Portland’s first policewoman—and the first official female law enforcement officer in any US city.


Beatrice Morrow Cannady moves to Portland from Texas. A civil rights activist, Cannady goes on to be one of the first black women to graduate from law school, the editor of Advocate, and the cofounder of Oregon’s chapter of the NAACP.


Oregon becomes the seventh US state to grant women the right to vote.


Marian B. Towne of Jackson County becomes the first woman elected to the Oregon House of Representatives.


A new law allows Oregon women to serve on juries.


Democrat Nan Wood Honeyman is elected to the US House of Representatives, becoming Oregon’s first congresswoman.


The United States’ entry into World War II sees women flocking to jobs in Oregon’s shipbuilding industry. By the height of the war, 30,000 women work in Portland’s shipyards.


After Mayor Earl Riley is caught in a bribery and corruption scandal, city commissioner Dorothy McCullough Lee becomes the first female mayor of Portland in a landslide election win.


Portland’s Beverly Cleary publishes her first children’s book, Henry Huggins. Over the next 50 years, the award-winning author writes 30 books and sells over 90 million copies worldwide.


Mary Rosenberg rallies friends to pool their funds to start the Women’s Convalescent Home Association (later the Women’s Care Foundation), providing residential nursing and rehabilitative support for women.


Portland writer Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness wins the Hugo and Nebula Awards, science fiction’s top literary prizes.


Following the passage of SB 193, Oregon becomes one of the first states to legalize abortion in the first 150 days of pregnancy.


After husband Neal dies, Gert Boyle takes over Columbia Sportswear and grows the company into the region’s dominant outdoor apparel company.


Corvallis native Barbara Roberts becomes the first woman to serve as majority leader in the Oregon House of Representatives.


Former state senator and state representative Betty Roberts is appointed as the 83rd associate justice of Oregon Supreme Court—the first woman to serve on that court.


Vera Katz becomes the first woman to serve as Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives.


Barbara Roberts becomes the 34th governor of Oregon—the first (and only...for now) woman elected to that office.


Vera Katz is elected as Portland’s third female mayor, serving until 2005.


Avel Gordly becomes the first African American woman elected to the Oregon Senate.


Bitch magazine, a publication known for its feminist commentary on popular culture, relocates from Oakland, California, to Portland.


Former federal prosecutor Ellen Rosenblum becomes the first woman to serve as Oregon Attorney General.


The Portland Thorns begin play in the National Women’s Soccer League, drawing over 16,000 per game—a national record.


The Portland Women’s Foundation merges with the Women’s Care Foundation to create the Women’s Foundation of Oregon.

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