Something Worth Doing

Written by Jane Kirkpatrick
Review by Fiona Alison

In 19th-century Oregon, Abigail Scott Duniway was a wife, mother, sister and aunt but also a pioneering suffragist deserving of the same recognition for her work which we bestow upon Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She was married at 19 to Ben Duniway, with whom she had six children. We follow the family through great loss, tragedy and triumph. Abigail didn’t always appreciate the unwavering support shown by her husband, and her increasing travel and public speaking, at a time when women didn’t have a voice, would have strained any marriage. She was outspoken, opinionated and sharp-tongued, pouring boundless energy into her fight for women’s right to vote, to own property and to retain custody of their children. She didn’t connect herself with Temperance and Prohibition as most suffragist groups did, believing in an individual’s right to choose, and she was frequently accused of being in the pocket of the liquor industry. Kirkpatrick doesn’t dwell on the hostilities of the various rights’ movements and Christian associations, but concentrates on Abigail’s many achievements, which allows us to see her more intimately in her many roles.

This is a moving account of a formidable woman―a teacher, milliner, businesswoman, public speaker, reformer and activist who wrote novels and articles and owned her own newspaper. Almost all the characters are drawn from real people, and the author has skillfully represented them here. Her detail about Oregon life in the latter half of the 19th century is testament to her long hours of research and will no doubt bring Abigail Scott Duniway’s name greater recognition. This is the first of Kirkpatrick’s novels that I have come across, and I found it both fascinating and inspiring and a joy to read.