Las Saturday, on Valentine’s Day (which also was my home state Oregon’s 156th birthday), I decided to venture out to the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Oregon City, Oregon. I learned a great deal about the Oregon Trail during my elementary school years but it was nice to go back and revisit history that I have not read about in over 20 years. That day, I excepted to learn some Oregon Trail history, but what I didn’t expect was to witness a fantastic talk about Women’s History and Rights on the Oregon Trail by noted author and playwright Susan G. Butruille.
After seeing a few exhibits on the beginnings of the Oregon Trail plus a 25-minute Bound for Oregon film, I walked into a room (outfitted like a goods shop at the end of the Oregon Trail) where Butruille had just begun her talk.
Throughout the talk, Butruille covered topics including life for women on the Oregon Trail. One part of the talk that stood out to me was the story of Abigail Scott Duniway and the women’s suffrage movement. Duniway was a prominent women’s advocate who tirelessly fought and led the inspiring efforts for women to gain the right to vote. Like most advocates for women, Duniway was angry about lack of respect towards women by society – especially from men.
According to Brutruille, at that time, “married women could not even keep their money even the money they earned – it all belonged to the husband.” Women couldn’t even own property or land as well, which made having financial independence much more difficult. Even during the women’s suffrage movement, as Butruille pointed out, prominent women like Duniway and Susan B. Anthony radically altered their way of life – and their wardrobe. In one instance, prominent women like Duniway and Susan B. Anthony would walk through town wearing baggy pants with a skirt on top called “bloomers.” This sight caused the townspeople to gawk and ridicule these women – and at one point, when one woman gave a speech about women’s rights and the right to vote, people began pelting her with rotten tomatoes! Eventually, women in the United States won the right to vote on August 18, 1920 – with Oregon being the seventh state to do so much earlier than that in 1912.
At the end of the talk, Butruille even beautifully sang a couple of songs on her guitar – “Scarborough Fair” (a song made popular by Simon and Garfunkel) and even led the audience in a sing-along of “When the Wind Blows”. Not to mention, Butruille even gave out free copies (signed!) of her book Women’s Voices from the Oregon Trail. Of course, being a supporter of women and enthralled by Butruille’s talk I had to pick up a copy.
Being a lifelong supporter of women, I greatly enjoyed Butruille’s talk. It was so fascinating to sit and listen Butruille discuss about the hardships and triumphs women on the Oregon Trail and during that time in the 1800s overcame and won – something boring, mundane (and sometimes filtered) textbooks could never explain. Butruille’s talk also made my already-strong appreciation for women’s history much, much stronger. It was a great Saturday well spent, and hopefully I’ll be able to catch more Women’s History-related talks in the near future, because now I absolutely love them.