Panel picks Chief Joseph, Abigail Scott Duniway to represent Oregon as statues at U.S. Capitol

on March 04, 2015 at 8:26 PM, updated March 04, 2015 at 9:03 PM

Abigail Scott Duniway votes in 1914 in Portland. Oregon Historical Society photo

Abigail Scott Duniway votes in 1914 in Portland. Oregon Historical Society photo

SALEM — Nez Perce leader Chief Joseph and pioneering woman rights activist Abigail Scott Duniway should replace two other symbols of Oregon among the statues on display at the U.S. Capitol, a panel recommended on Wednesday.

The Statuary Hall Study Commission decided it was time to update Oregon’s contributions to the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington, D.C., where each state has two figures to serve as symbols. The final decision on which statues will be representing Oregon still rests with state lawmakers.

Since 1953, Oregon’s two figures have been pioneer Jason Lee, a 19th century missionary who founded what became Willamette University, and John McLoughlin, a fur trader known as the father of Oregon.

“Much more Oregon history has been written, and it was time to send statues of two equally worthy individuals who represent different chapters in Oregon’s history,” said Jerry Hudson, chair of the commission.

The commission decided to recommend that the McLoughlin and Lee statues come back to Oregon, and that they be replaced by Chief Joseph and Duniway.

Chief Joseph lived from 1840-1904 and was leader a band of the Nez Perce that was forcibly removed from the Wallowa Valley by the U.S. government. Joseph’s band was among those that resisted removal during the 1877 Nez Perce War.

Chief Joseph is “Oregon’s only truly mythical heroic figure,” said Amy Platt, a project manager at the Oregon Historical Society.

“I would say that most schoolchildren in the country know his name, which is extraordinary,” Platt said.

Duniway, who lived from 1834-1915, was known as “the pioneer woman suffragist of the great Northwest.” She and her family moved to Oregon in a wagon train, and she wrote about that experience in novels.

For 16 years, she was editor and publisher of “The New Northwest,” a newspaper devoted to women’s rights. She also wrote the Oregon Woman Suffrage Proclamation in 1912, said Eliza Canty-Jones, a public outreach manager at Oregon Historical Society.

There are 90 men and 10 women in the National Statuary Hall Collection. It wasn’t until 2000 that Congress decided states could switch out their statues. Seven states have already done so, including Ohio, which is in the process of replacing Governor William Allen, a 19th century congressman who supported the rights of southern slave owners, with the inventor Thomas Edison. California replaced Civil War abolitionist Thomas Starr King with a bronze statue of Ronald Reagan in 2006.

Oregon’s nine-member commission, created by former Gov. John Kitzhaber last August, was initially tasked with deciding whether Lee’s statue should be replaced with that of the late Mark Hatfield, World War II veteran and the longest-serving senator in Oregon’s history.

It instead recommended both Lee and McLoughlin should be returned to “places of honor” in Oregon.

Though the commission had already endorsed removal of the two statues, several people spoke in favor of keeping them in their current homes during a public hearing preceding the commission’s vote, including one man who testified as though he were McLoughlin himself.

The commission has been gathering input from scholars and the public about who best represents Oregon, and it narrowed a list of 10 candidates down to four in December. Along with Hatfield, Chief Joseph and Duniway, former governor Tom McCall was a contender.

It’s unclear where the McLoughlin and Lee statues will go if the Legislature decides to bring them home to Oregon. Local communities and museums can apply to house them, said Kerry Tymchuk, executive director of the Oregon Historical Society and a nonvoting member of the panel.

— Sheila V Kumar, The Associated Press

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