One hundred and five years after women in Oregon won the right to vote, state and county women leaders renamed the Elections Building for the suffragists behind the victory.
Commissioner Loretta Smith, Former Governor Barbara Roberts, a local Girl Scout Troop of the United States of America and dozens of others filled the lobby of the Election Building Wednesday morning for the renaming.
The building will now be called the Multnomah County Duniway-Lovejoy Elections Building, in honor of the state’s earliest advocates for women’s right to vote, Abigail Scott Duniway and Esther Pohl Lovejoy.
“At a time when so many of us feel under attack from so many directions, it feels good to take a minute and thank those who came before us,” said Commissioner Smith to guests at the event.
“To thank those who fought so hard so that our voices could be heard. To thank the women without whom I would not be standing here.”
Abigail Scott Duniway was a longtime leader in the movement for obtaining women’s right to vote. Duniway started campaigning in 1871. She led efforts for five campaign cycles, spanning over 40 years. She also ran several businesses, including a newspaper called The New Northwest, which promoted equality for women.
Esther Pohl Lovejoy was a physician and the first woman appointed to direct a public health department in a major U.S. city. Lovejoy led the Portland Public Health Board.
In 1912, when Duniway fell ill, Lovejoy stepped forward to chair the ballot measure campaign. She implemented a new, comprehensive campaign strategy that finally secured voting rights for women in Oregon. After the measure passed, Duniway was the first woman to cast a vote.
She died two years later.
“Abigail and Esther would be so proud of Oregon,” said Former Governor Roberts. “They gave Oregon women the privilege and right to add their voice and their vote to our democracy.”
Roberts, Oregon’s first female governor, also worked with the county to make the change happen.
“History is important,’’ she said. “These women made history and made it possible for those who came after to make history.”
When she noted that today, the state of Oregon has a woman governor, attorney general, speaker of the House and all five Multnomah County Commissioners are women, the room erupted in applause.
Elections Director Tim Scott pursued a career in Election Administration because of the efforts by women like Duniway and Lovejoy.
“The right to cast a ballot has been won through centuries of struggle and conflict,” Scott said.
“And even when the right was won through constitutional amendments, there still exist today, barriers to participation in the form of racially and politically-motivated intimidation and voter suppression. We have made progress as a country toward universal adult suffrage but the right to vote is such a powerful tool that there are still those that work to keep others from using it. Fortunately, Oregon is a leader in election innovation and removing barriers to voting.”
The name change comes on March 8, International Women's Day (IWD) which commemorates the struggle for women's rights.
“And it is certainly no accident that we are celebrating these two pioneering women today, on International Women’s Day,” said Smith.
“As we speak, hundreds of thousands of women across this country are exercising their right to be heard by marching in today’s ‘Day-Without-Women protest. This demonstration reminds us that access to the ballot box is a necessary element of democracy. But it’s only one piece.”
View video from the Oct. 20, 2016 board meeting when the Multnomah County Board Commissioners approved the resolution to change the name in honor of the suffragettes.