What’s a ‘batch-i-naylian orgy’? Ask Abby

Oregon Historical Society's picture of Abigail Scott Duniway's typewriter

Editor Abigail Scott Duniway's typewriter is preserved at the Oregon Historical Society.

About half-way through this Cavalcade of America radio profile, a libelous attack on suffragist newspaper publisher Abigail Scott Duniway sends her off to the dictionary to find out more about the lies a competing newspaper has been telling about her.

When she gets home, she discovers that her five sons have already seen the same editorial attacking their mother, and they have a new question for her: “How good are you at raising bail, Ma?”

She was apparently as good at raising bail as she was at raising hell, according to her dramatic profile in this 1945 Cavalcade episode, Westward the Women, presented here in honor of Women’s History Month.

In the 1870s, Duniway was editor and publisher of the Oregon newspaper The New Northwest.  She also wrote her life story, Path Breaking, numerous novels (sometimes serialized in her newspaper) and poetry. Although she died in 1915, before final ratification of the vote for women, she lived to see Oregon became the seventh state to pass a women’s suffrage amendment, and wrote the Oregon Woman Suffrage Proclamation in 1912.

This radio biography is based on the book Westward the Women by Nancy Wilson Ross — no relation to a similarly named Hollywood film about a wagon train full of mail-order brides.  Duniway is portrayed by Broadway and Hollywood star Ann Harding as a tough-talking pioneer businesswoman and organizer whose talents more than made up for her devoted husband’s business shortcomings and a later injury that put him in a wheelchair. As a storekeeper, she deals with the economic realities of women’s lives in an era when they couldn’t own property of their own.

Her husband, Ben Duniway, narrates much of the story, including an announcement to his cronies who question her “gallivanting around”:

“I like a woman with gumption and ideas. Why you know what she’s going to do now, and she thought of it all herself? … She’s going to publish a newspaper, yessir. Going to be a publisher. It’s going to be hard for  folks to swallow, but I’ll bet it’s going to be a good newspaper.”

For more about Duniway’s life and times, listen to the program, then see her page at the Oregon Historical Society and the Oregon Encylopedia. Her newspaper, The New Northwest, is available for free online in The Oregon Digital Newspaper Program.

The Oregon publisher is among the women journalists I had not encountered in my “media history” studies until I started digging into online collections of radio programs.  I’d been impressed by the number of reporters and editors who popped up in dramatic series, then discovered that real-life reporters, editors and publishers had their working lives dramatized in a number of radio history series, most notably the DuPont Cavalcade of America.

Cavalcade was a long-running a public relations campaign by DuPont to lift its image through association with “the forward march of the American spirit” — tales of great Americans in government, public life, arts and letters. A generation before PBS or the History Channel, Cavalcade of America provided intriguing popular-history profiles, and plenty of them: The weekly program ran from 1935 to 1953.

Among other women journalists on Cavalcade are these I’ve already mentioned here:

The Cavalcade series has been researched in depth by radio historian Martin Grams Jr. and has been catalogued and uploaded to the Internet Archive by the Old Time Radio Researchers Group.

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.
This entry was posted in 1940s, 19th century, cavalcade, editors, historical figures, true stories, women. Bookmark the permalink.

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