Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Elma Buckman, 1872-1955

By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, SUNY Binghamton

Elma Buckman was born in February 1872 in Portland with parents, Cyrus and Jane Buckman. The 1880 census recorded Elma as the second of four Buckman children. The family lived in East Portland and Cyrus was listed as a farmer. He died in September 1894 at the age of 60; Jan Buckman died in May 1918 at the age of 84. Elma graduated from East Portland high school in 1896. City directories recorded her living on East 18th St. in Portland between 1894 and 1955, but never recorded an occupation for her. Elma never married and in 1920 and 1930 she was living in Portland with her older sister, Wilda. They owned their home in 1920 free of any mortgage, probably the home they had grown up in; both were single and listed without an occupation. Their home in 1930 was valued in the census at $10,000, a high value for that date.

The Buckman family was extremely wealthy, having numerous investments in Portland real estate. A 1903 newspaper announcement of assessments for construction of a sewer in "Buckman's Second Addition" listed 24 lots owned by Elma and Wilda Buckman and their mother Jane. The total assessment for these lots came to $573.75, with payment due within 30 days of the December notice. Elma herself owned seven of these lots. In 1911 the Buckmans sold the Hollyrood Addition to a real estate developer for $60,000. In 1914 Wilma and Elma each inherited about $23,000 at the death of their uncle, Isaiah Buckman.

Two sources enable one to reconstruct Elma's participation in the woman suffrage movement in Portland--the History of Woman Suffrage, volume 6 (1922), and Abigail Scott Duniway's autobiography, Path Breaking: An Autobiographical History of the Equal Suffrage Movement in Pacific Coast States (1914). The two references in the History of Woman Suffrage place "Emma" Buckman as the financial secretary of the Oregon Equal Suffrage Association (OESA) in 1906 and then as secretary of the Association during the 1912 state suffrage campaign. In her memoir, Duniway gets the "Elma" right and notes that she served as recording secretary of the OESA in 1908 and participated in a February suffrage meeting "to effect a permanent campaign of organization" for the 1912 referendum vote. A local newspaper account noted that she spoke at a suffrage meeting in May 1912, "the first of a series of neighborhood meetings which will be given to arouse interest in the campaign for suffrage." In October, Buckman sat on the stage at an event celebrating the 78th birthday of Oregon's leading suffragist, Abigail Scott Duniway. Dressed in suffrage white with a yellow scarf, she also served as an usher for the occasion.

Local newspaper accounts reveal only one other community organization in which Elma participated, the Evening Star grange. Another account notes her purchase of a Liberty Bond to support the war effort during World War I. The Buckman sisters continued to live together and were recorded in the Portland census for 1940, then at 71 and 68 years old. Wilda passed away in 1944 and Elma in 1955.


Federal Manuscript Census for Portland, 1880, 1920-1940.

Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 (1922) [LINK].

Abigail Scott Duniway, Path Breaking: An Autobiographical History of the Equal Suffrage Movement in Pacific Coast States (1914).

Ancestry Library Edition. Death records of Cyrus, Jane, Elma, and Wilda Buckman.

Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, OR):

Dec. 9, 1903, p. 14; May 16, 1912, p. 18; Oct. 23, 1912, p. 13; June 15, 1913, p. 46; Feb. 28, 1914, p. 2; Sept. 3, 1914, p. 11; Oct. 30, 1917, p. 16; and Jan. 3, 1921, p. 6.

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