Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Eva Emery Dye, 1855-1947
By Patricia Schechter, Professor, Portland State University
Eva Emery Dye was a catalyst in the white women's suffrage movement in Oregon. She advanced the mythos of the pioneer mother in a way that allowed women to think of themselves as voting citizens. That mythos was both civilizationist and colonizing, and Dye first articulated it through her historical fiction, notably The Conquest: The True Story of Lewis and Clark, published in 1902. Dye built a movement around this mythos: the creation of a bronze statue of the Mandan captive Sacagawea, called “The Woman Pilot,” completed by the sculptor Alice Cooper and unveiled at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition. According to Dye's biographer, the propaganda, social organizing, and fundraising advanced by the Sacajawea Statue Association built a bridge between conservative, temperance-minded women and anti-clerical and republican-oriented activists, these latter epitomized by Abigail Scott Duniway. Dye fell into the former camp, and her calm, anti-polarizing sensibility in the statue project helped white activist women find common ground around motherhood and the suffrage issue before 1910.
Dye and Duniway enjoyed a warm and largely epistolary friendship at the turn of the century, based on their identity as writers. Indeed, the NAWSA story as it survives in print largely flowed from the pens of Dye, Duniway, and their colleague Sarah Evans, the indefatigable organizer of the Portland Woman's Club and, crucially, the editor of the woman's page of the Oregon Journal. Dye was the rhetorician, Evans the mobilizer. Dye wrote the stump speeches Evans made sure that everyone knew about them. Dye's rhetoric partook of racialist imperial framework typical of Anglo-American social thought at the turn of the twentieth century: that Christian civilization should encompass the world. Dye's intervention centered motherhood in that framework by turning the body of Sacagawea into a proof-text. The “mother and child took Oregon,” was how Dye put it at the unveiling of “The Woman Pilot,” a celebration that included a mile-long parade and that was the featured event of the NAWSA convention held in Portland, concurrent with the Exposition.
Dye was first and foremost a cultural worker. Born Eva Lucinda Emery in Illinois in 1855, she was a great reader of romances and enjoyed an Oberlin education. She met her husband in college and in 1890, the couple moved to Oregon City where Charles Dye prospered in real estate and law. Dye wrote for publications of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. She founded and led the Willamette Valley Chautauqua Association for more than 30 years. She also championed historic preservation, notably the restoration of the home of John Mcloughlin, chief factor in the colonial fur trade.
Dye chaired the Clackamas County branch of the Oregon Equal Suffrage Association from 1896 to 1912. Her willingness to lend her name and credibility to the cause eased some of the tensions among activists, especially after the defeats in 1906 and 1908. Over the years, Dye's connection to Duniway frayed—they disagreed mightily over Anna Shaw's leadership of NAWSA, for example—but it did not break. Nonetheless, the mechanics of the successful 1912 suffrage referendum are credited rather less to Dye's generation than to a fresh set of tactics advanced by younger professional women in Portland. Evy Dye passed away in her long-time home of Oregon City in 1947.
Browne, Sheri Bartlett. Eva Emery Dye: Romance with the West. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2004.
Jensen, Kimberly. ""Neither Head nor Tail to the Campaign" - Esther Pohl Lovejoy and the Oregon Woman Suffrage Victory of 1912." Oregon Historical Quarterly 108, no. 3 (2007): 350-83.