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The Unsinkable Abigail
In forty years of scraping and scrapping for women’s rights, Abigail Scott Duniway never lost her nerve or wicked tongue
February 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 2
Now came an avalanche of newspaper editorials all over the nation extolling her. She had become the “Grand Old Woman of Oregon.” Her transition from obloquy to veneration amused her. The day she presented the proclamation to Governor West for his signature, she twitted her new image by showing up attired in lavender and lace.
During her last campaign she often said her one remaining wish was to “enter heaven a free angel.” But after that seemed assured, she remembered something more. She had always meant to write her memoirs. Finally she had the time. Her grandchildren remembered her seated amid a heap of scrapbooks and old newspapers, alternately wielding a pair of shears and punching at a monstrous old Smith-Premier typewriter.
In 1914 came publication of Path Breaking , a rambling, chronologically scrambled volume that nonetheless was both informative and entertaining. One might have expected its eightyyear-old laurelled author to have mellowed. While writing it she was often interrupted to receive yet another honor. And the sons her critics had said she was “raising for the penitentiary” were succeeding in law, editing, education, and business. She might have looked back mistily, all benign, all forgiving. But that wouldn’t have been Abigail. She hadn’t altered her opinion that anything less than passionate partisanship was dishonest pussyfooting. Old bones were disinterred, old battles zestfully refought.
Her book kicked up a fuss, as she intended. She spent the final months of her life gleefully retorting to critics. On October 11, 1915, eleven days short of her eighty-first birthday, she died in her sleep of blood poisoning brought on by an infected toe that, independent to the end, she had tried to cure herself.