Richard Neuberger

Richard Neuberger with his wife, Maurine, at the Oregon State Capitol.

Providence must have been smiling when a trio of eminent Oregon authors agreed to collaborate on this immensely readable history of three incandescent figures who in their own day and way planted seeds from which modern Oregon grew.

Steve Forrester, the president and CEO of EO Media Group, conceived the book, recruited his talented co-authors and served as editor. His chapter on author-cum-U.S. Sen. Richard Neuberger captures the forward-looking environmentalism, liberalism and meteoric life of the visionary whose upset victory in 1954 tipped control of the U.S. Senate to the Democrats and made Lyndon B. Johnson majority leader.

Novelist Jane Kirkpatrick examines the life of Abigail Scott Duniway, a woman of meager formal education who became a nationally known suffragette, abolitionist, newspaper publisher, orator, author of 22 novels and shopkeeper while mothering six children.

Author and journalist R. Gregory Nokes gives us Jesse Applegate, a mid-19th century surveyor, abolitionist and founder of the Applegate Trail who as a delegate in the state constitutional convention helped ensure that Oregon entered the Union as a free state.

Each history is a short chapter in this 186-page work. Based mainly on primary sources, the story of each three-dimensional life will astound, inspire and inform both the casual reader and the scholar.

Neuberger

Neuberger’s career was meteoric. Forrester reminds us that as a 21-year-old, Neuberger visited 1933 Germany and using shoe leather research produced one of the first American exposés about Adolf Hitler’s rising grotesquery. That article in The Nation would be but one of many pieces Neuberger authored for national audiences both before and after his stunning election to the Senate.

Eminent Oregonians

Along the way, he attended the international conference that produced the United Nations, befriended Adlai Stevenson, talked with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter and lunched with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Throughout his career, Neuberger’s sunny liberalism challenged Oregon’s prevailing conservatism. It was as if he understood what James Michener would write so many years later: A sailing boat excites and inspires when the wind is slightly athwart its bow, “for then tension can be maintained, and juices can flow, and ideas can germinate, for ships, like men, respond to challenge.”

In 1960, the meteor vanished as quickly as it seemed to have emerged. Months before completing his first Senate term, cancer and a cerebral hemorrhage claimed Neuberger’s life. He was 47. In death as in life, he was always in a hurry.

Scott Duniway

Kirkpatrick transports readers into the world of Scott Duniway, the “Mother of Oregon Suffrage,” who, beginning in 1880, shook off five election defeats until she helped Oregon women win the franchise in 1912. The cause of her life rested on the belief that citizenship, not gender, granted an inherent right to vote and fully participate in democracy.

Following suit, Oregon female legislators formed a bipartisan caucus in 1973 to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, making the Beaver State the 25th to do so.

Voters went further in 2014; they added the ERA to the state’s constitution by a 2 to 1 margin. The measure guarantees that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the state of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex.”

Scott Duniway also can be seen as pioneering Oregon as fertile ground for literature. Abigail’s 22 books of fiction presaged the careers of Ursula Le Guin, Molly Gloss, Jean Auel and Louise Bryant, among others.

Applegate

The mercurial Applegate is best known as founder of the 1846 Applegate Trail, a route that forked southward off the Oregon Trail to allow westbound wagon trains to make it through without fording the hazardous Columbia River.

Applegate, a surveyor, knew those hazards well, having captained one of two overland trains in The Great Migration of 1843 (then the largest group of wagons to make the trek from Independence, Missouri).

Applegate won a seat in Oregon’s provisional legislature and in its constitutional convention. He strenuously opposed Oregon joining the Union as a slave state, and voters agreed with him at the polls. Despite Applegate’s denunciations, however, they excluded Blacks from citizenship, even freed slaves. In protest, Applegate walked out of the assembly.

The Black exclusion act stood until it was repealed in 1920.

These three eminent Oregonians did matter. Their agitation was as important as their success, for agitation often begets change. Frederick Douglass likened it to growing crops — first you must disturb the soil.

Les AuCoin, a Democrat, represented Oregon’s 1st Congressional District for 18 years. He is the author of “Catch and Release: An Oregon Life in Politics.”