One hundred years ago, American women were granted the right to vote. However, this right was not won quickly or easily.
In 1848, the women’s movement was launched at The Seneca Falls Convention with women’s suffrage being the primary demand. The movement gathered momentum through the 1850s; however, with the onset of the Civil War in 1861, women’s suffrage lost its steam. Four years later, with the end of the war, the suffrage movement began again. Unfortunately, it took 55 more years before American women were granted the right to vote.
Something Worth Doing, by Jane Kirkpatrick, tells the tale of one of the lesser-known suffragists, Abigail (Scott) Duniway, Oregon’s “Mother of Equal Suffrage” and the “Pioneer Woman Suffragist of the Great Northwest”, who devoted more than four decades of her life to the cause of women’s rights.
Mentored by Susan B. Anthony, Abigail (Scott) Duniway was a National Woman Suffrage Association vice-president-at-large and helped negotiate the 1890 merger of that organization and the American Woman Suffrage Association to become the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
Thanks to her efforts, women were granted the right to vote in Idaho Territory in 1896. Although early suffrage successes were overturned in Washington Territory, the State of Washington did grant voting rights to women in 1910. But it was her home state of Oregon that gave Abigail the most difficulty, scuttling the suffrage referendum five times (1884, 1900, 1906, 1908, and 1910), thanks in large part to her brother, Harvey W. Scott, a newspaper editor and aspiring politician who was a staunch opponent of women’s suffrage. Harvey died in 1910; two years later, Oregon’s women won the right to vote.
When she was not working hard to secure the vote, Abigail was working hard as the editor/publisher of the weekly newspaper, The New Northwest. Guided by its byline—”Yours for Liberty”—and its motto—”Free Speech, Free Press, Free People”, Abigail tackled social injustices. Abigail also wrote several novels, worked on her husband’s farm, taught students of all ages, and ran a millinery shop, all while raising six children. A woman ahead of her time, Abigail (Scott) Duniway was a force to be reckoned with. Flawed but deeply driven, her story is sure to resonate with today’s women who struggle to balance family and career, societal expectations and personal aspirations.
Although I admire Abigail’s convictions and her belief that something worth doing is worth doing well, I did not enjoy the way the author told her story. The novel jumped from one history-worthy part of Abigail’s life to another, occasionally showing the simple, everyday times in between. Also, many of the secondary characters felt superficial—shown only through the lens of who they were to Abigail, not who they were as individuals. Even Abigail’s husband, Benjamin, a forward-thinking man for the time, seemed a bit one-dimensional. Although this is a work of fiction and some of Abigail’s perspectives and dialogue are mere supposition, with the force and fortitude of its passionate protagonist, Something Worth Doing could have been something more.