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As It Was: Early Oregonian Ponders Racism and Women’s Rights

Samuel Handsaker quit school at the age of 11 and emigrated from England to Alton, Ill.   He lacked a formal education, but was a gifted writer and observer.

Handsaker drove a team of oxen to Oregon, sending back tales of his adventures for publication in the Alton newspaper.  He remained in Oregon, becoming the first butcher in Canyonville.

In a 1908 memoir, he commented on racism and women’s rights.  He wrote, in these words, “We all have cause to be thankful that we emigrated to this land of free schools and free homes where every man – and I sincerely wish that I could add every woman – has the right of suffrage.”

He added that contemporary opponents to women’s suffrage would one day, in his words, “hang their heads in shame to think that they said by their actions that their wife, mother or sister was not as worthy to enjoy the rights of citizenship as are the millions of illiterate foreigners who come every year to our shores.”

It would be 12 years before women gained the right to vote, and 57 years before passage of the Civil Rights Voting Act.

Sources: Handsaker, Samuel. Pioneer Life. Eugene, Oregon, self, 1908, pp. 83-84

Valerie Ing was a teenager when she hosted her first music program on the airwaves. As a student at SOU, she was JPR’s Chief Student Announcer and the first volunteer in our newsroom. She's now JPR’s Northern California Program Coordinator, hosting Siskiyou Music Hall from JPR's Redding studio in the Cascade Theatre.