Abigail couldn’t accept the fact that women hadn’t the right to own property.
In 1860 Ben and Abigail bought some land adjoining to their farm from a widow.
“Mary sold us this land herself because she is a widow. I suppose no one ever really knows what goes on in the minds of women whose husbands sell their property.”
“Maybe it is the wife’s idea to sell the land.”
“Could be,” said Abigail, “but there should be a law providing a woman with the sole right to dispose of her property or buy other property or to keep it safe from foreclosure for the debts of others. No woman should be a legal nonentity.” (page77)
fears come true
In 1862 she lived what she most feared for women.
While her husband is away:
“The sheriff came to the Duniway farm with a summons, He gave it to Abigail……..she said nothing ……but her head reeled. My mother’s family once lost a farm. Our neighbors down the hill are losing their farm. This goes on and on. Wives have nothing to say about all the notes signed, all the farms lost, but she added to herself when the sheriff came, I could receive the summons and be held responsible for the obligations, I shall tell Ben just what I think of all this maneuvering in which women have no right to speak up, to defend themselves.
Ben came in, He stopped to romp affectionately with the children.
Abigail noticed his customary kindliness but said to herself, “I must let him know just what I think. He deserves to suffer for this.”
She handed him the summons the sheriff had left.
Ben turned pale, he looked tired, so tired that Abigail could not speak except to say, “Supper is ready, come on and eat.” (page86)
The Duniway sold the farm on January 20th 1863 and moved to Lafayette. Again Abigail opened a school in her home.
Bethania Owens, also a teacher, visits Abigail on her way to Roseburg.
Abigail said,” Women are not paid as much as men for teaching. I am going to teach only until I can get enough money to open a shop.”
Bethania was interested. “What kind of shop?”
” Dressmaking and millinery”
“I could open a shop in Roseburg”, said Bethania.
“Abigail nodded. “We can never make enough money teaching to provide what we want for our children,”
Bethania and her son George Hill went on to Roseburg. Bethania opened a shop and learned to make hats.” (page 92)
property and suffrage right
Abigail’s life goes on, but she never stops thinking about the importance of women’s right to property, and soon she starts fighting also for suffrage.
After assisting a widow in front of the judge for property issues, Abigail goes home quite angry. At that time, Ben was ill and not working, he took care of the house and children, and Abigail had opened a millinery shop.
“One-half of the women are drudges: the other half are dolls: and we are all fools”
Ben touched his wife’s hair and said, “My dear, don’t you see that it will never be any better for women till they are allowed to vote?”
“What good would that do?” she asked
“Don’t you know that if women were voters, they would soon be law-makers? And don’t you see that, as law-makers, they would soon have equal property rights with men?”
Abigail straightened her back, raised her shoulders, Her eyes were illuminated, and the light of a thousand ideas now flickered into a steady flame of hope, courage, and determination. (page 112).
From the preface by the author:
Mrs. Duniway worked endlessly with “jawbone and pen” to earn her own way, but she needed and had her family’s help. History should remember Ben, the five sons, and Clara who plodded through youth yearning to be a “lady”, the sisters who were torn between loyalty to Abigail and their own views, Harvey, the hard-working political philosopher who was embarrassed by his sister’s outspoken manner and convictions which were ahead of time, The Duniway story is the story of a genius mother, a tender husband, five upright sons, and a tragically disappointed daughter.(page ix-x)
We have to stop here for the moment. I am waiting for the second volume of “The Presumptuous dreamers. A Sociological history of the Life and Times of ABIGAIL SCOTT DUNIWAY” ( Volume II 1872-1876) by Helen Krebs Smith from the U.S. to be delivered expected at the end of September. I also ordered Abigail’s autobiography “Path Breaker” so, sooner or later, I will be back with Abigail’s life.
I want to thank Helen Krebs Smith for the magnificent work she has done researching and writing this story. I hope I have not ruined it with my review and very personal Italian translation (link interno).
All this started because I wanted to know about “The Presumptuous Dreamers”. Why this title? What do I have in common with Abigail?
Well Abigail calls herself a Presumptuous dreamer in
David and Ann Matson di Abigail Scott Duniway
New York: S, R, Wells& CO., PUBLISHERS,
NO 737 Broadway 1876
Presumptuous dreamer, vain, am I
To dare attempt Parnassus’ hights,
My Pegasus untrained and shy,
My muse unnerved to lofty flights;
But there be hearts that chose to sing,
Albeit their lays are lowly ones,
That only to their authors bring
Compassion from Fame’s favored sons.
I’ve penned my sad and simple song.
And to my muse lend heart and ear,
Because I deprecate a wrong.
Abigail Scott Duniway – Portland, Oregon – November 1, 1876
What do we have in common? Much more than I like to admit living in 2021. Rossana Rossanda labeled herself as a girl from the 19th century, and I’m asking myself how deep my roots go into the century previous that of my birth. Women have never stopped fighting for their rights, but there is still so much to do in this world’s North, East, West, and South. As you know, one book leads to another, and in this case, Abigail led me to books about women’s rights written in the 21st century. I’m reading them and will be happy to share them with you all very, very soon.
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