The Evolution of Women's Rights in Oregon


Donation Land Claim Act. Allows married wo​men to claim land in their own names. The Act was passed prior to any U.S. treaty negotiations with Native peoples in the area, for whom Oregon had been home for thousands of years. Only “white settlers” and “American half-breed Indians” could claim land, and the Act excluded all non-U.S. citizens, including Native peoples (who were not U.S. citizens), Blacks, and Hawaiians.​


Picture of the front of the Oregon Constitution with the words: Original Constitution of The State of Oregon.

​​​​​​​​Oregon State Constitutional Convention. Declares that only white men can vote. The convention produced the original Oregon Constitution​ (View transcribed text​). The delegates to the convention reflected the racist attitudes of the white citizens of the territory. The cover title of the original document is shown here. (Oregon State Archives Image)


Federal law allows “competent” Native women to testify in trials.​


Oregon passes miscegenation laws prohibiting whites from marrying African Americans, Chinese Americans, Native Hawaiians, and other Native peoples.


First Oregon woman suffrage organizations form in Albany and Salem.


Profile of Susan B Anthony, her hair in a bun, wearing a black dress with a lace collar and a broach at the center.

​​​​​​​Susan B. Anthony tours the Pacific Northwest with Abigail Scott Duniway. Susan B. Anthony is shown here ca. 1855. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)


Abigail Scott Duniway publishes The New Northwest, a women’s rights newspaper.

November 1872

Mrs. Mary Beatty, an African American woman living in Portland, joins fellow Oregonians Abigail Scott Duniway, Maria Hendee, and Mrs. M.A. Lambert, in casting their votes in the presidential election. The judge does not count their votes.​


All Oregon taxpayers, regardless of gender, may vote in school elections.


Married Women’s Property Act. Opens the way for married women in Oregon to own their own property and enter business arrangements without their husband.


First Oregon vote on woman suffrage. For: 11,223 (28 percent); Against: 28,176.


Teacher stands at blackboard. Above her on wall reads: Order is Heavens First Law

​​​​​​​Oregon allows women to be “eligible to all educational offices within the state.” Previously, women were expected to serve only as teachers. A teacher stands at the head of a Marion County class ca. 1900 in this photo. (​Oregon State Archives Image)


Oregon Supreme Court case State Ex Rel. v. Stevens declares the 1893 law making women eligible for educational office unconstitutional.


Oregon Supreme Court case Harris v. Burr upholds taxpaying women’s right to vote in school elections.


Second Oregon vote on woman suffrage. For: 26,255 (48 percent); Against: 28,402.​


Voters adopt the famous Oregon System of initiative and referendum.


Oregon makes it illegal for certain industries, such as factories and laundries, ​ to have women work for more than ten hours per day.


Fair goers stroll before a palace in 1905.

​​​​​​​The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) holds its national convention in Portland in conjunction with the Lewis and Clark Exposition. Shown here, visitors walk past the Agricultural Palace at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland. (Courtesy of Al Staehli)


Third Oregon vote on woman suffrage. For: 36,902 (44 percent); Against: 47,075.


Oregon women who marry noncitizens lose their citizenship status. The federal Expatriation Act of 1907, which enacted this status, left affected women ​with forfeited constitutional rights ​and subject to deportation. The Cable Act of 1922 nullified​ this for all except women who married​ men ineligible for citizenship.


Fourth Oregon vote on woman suffrage. For: 36,858 (39 percent); Against: 58,670.


Fifth Oregon vote on woman suffrage. For: 35,270 (37 percent); Against: 59,065.


Handbill reads: Women Vote on Equal Terms with Men in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Washington, Idaho, California, Why Not in Oregon?

​​​​​​​Sixth and final Oregon vote on woman suffrage. For: 61,265 (52%); Against: 57,104. Shown here, a handbill calls on Oregon voters to approve woman suffrage in the 1912 election.​ (Courtesy of University of Oregon Library)


Marian B. Towne, a Jackson County Democrat, is the first woman elected to the Oregon House of Representatives.


Kathryn Clarke, a Douglas County Republican, is the first woman elected to the Oregon Senate.


Voters in the City of Umatilla elected an all-female slate of candidates including Mayor Laura J. Starcher, who replaced her husband.

January 1920

Oregon becomes the twenty-fifth state to ratify the 19th Amendment.​

October 1920

Marie Equi, M.D., begins her prison term for protesting World War I.

November 1920

Esther Pohl Lovejoy, Democrat from Oregon’s Third District, is the first woman to run for U.S. Congress from Oregon; she gains 44 percent of the vote.


A cartoon shows a woman crying into a man’s shoulder while standing before a jury box full of men.

​​​​​​​Oregon voters approve jury service for women. Opponents to woman suffrage had argued that women were too sentimental to vote or serve on juries. This 1915 dra​wing by Kenneth Russell Chamberlain for Puck magazine pokes fun at ​that idea. See enlarged image at the Library of Congress​.


Federal Indian Citizenship Act. Makes U.S. citizenship possible for all Native women.


Nan Wood Honeyman becomes the first Oregon woman elected to the US House of Representatives​.


McCarran Walter Act. Enables first generation Asian American women to acquire citizenship.


Maurine Neuberger is the first and only woman to represent Oregon in the U.S. Senate.


Women in the Oregon legislature work to pass laws addressing women’s unequal citizenship in marriage, work, health, and legal status.


Buttons read: ERA The Equal Rights Amendment, People of Faith for ERA, A Man of Quality is not threatened by a Woman for EQUALITY

​​​​​​​Oregon legislature votes to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment or ERA. Listen to audio of a Norma Paulus speech in favor of the ERA​. Shown here are buttons in support of the ERA. (Courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society)


Mae Yih (born Chih Feng Dunn) becomes the first Chinese American to serve in a state Senate in the United States. She served in both Oregon House and Senate.​


Norma Paulus becomes first woman elected to statewide office as Secretary of State.​


Oregon Supreme Court case Gunther v. Washington County expands equal pay for equal work toward comparable worth.


Betty Roberts becomes the first woman on the Oregon Supreme Court.


Vera Katz is first woman to serve as Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives.​ Of Portland's five Jewish mayors, Vera Katz, who was mayor from 1993 to 2005, is the only woman.​


Jackie Taylor is the first Native American elected to the Oregon House.


Painting of Barbara Roberts standing before an open French Door leading to a garden.

​​​​​​​Barbara Roberts is the first woman to serve as Governor of Oregon. Shown here is a portrait of Roberts by Aimee Erickson. The portrait hangs in the Oregon State Capitol. (Oregon State Archives Image)


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


Oregon becomes the first state in the nation to vote exclusively by mail.

Jackie Winters is elected to the Oregon House of Representatives. She was the first African-American Republican ever to serve In the Oregon Legislative Assembly. In 2017, Winters was elected as Senate Minority Leader and became the first African-American legislative leader in Oregon.​


Susan Castillo is the first female Lantinx official elect​ed to statewide office as the Superintendent of Public Instruction.


Ellen Rosenblum becomes the state’s first female attorney general and the first Jewish person to hold the office.


Teresa Alonso Leon is the first Latina immigrant elected to the Oregon House.


Susheela Jayapal becomes the first South Asian American elected in Oregon to Multnomah County Board of Commissioners​.


Jo Ann Hardesty becomes the first African-American woman to serve on the Portland City Council​.

Next: Ratification of the 19th Amendment >