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Suffragettes – They Weren’t All Home Grown

May 13, 2019

When women have had no direct influence whatsoever on legislation, this has resulted in their being subject to all the laws created by men, no matter how difficult and inconvenient for women these laws have been.

– Maria Raunio, 1872-1911

Written by: Mike Leamy, Greenwood Cemetery & Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries

Maria Raunio found her final resting place in Greenwood Cemetery near Astoria, Oregon. Her simple gravestone bears only her name and the numeric parentheses that enclose her brief life… and the hammer and sickle she would not have claimed.

Born in Finland in 1872, she was the eldest of thirteen children. Her working family was poor, yet Maria and all of her siblings were able to complete an elementary education. She married and bore seven sons. Her husband emigrated to the United States, but was killed in a mining accident the same year. Widowed, Maria left her children with her parents, and sought work that would eventually provide for her family, unwilling to depend on poor relief to feed herself and her small children.

Shaped by conflicting and sometimes chaotic ideas of the era, Maria grew to be an activist for change in her adult years. She clerked for one change-focused newspaper in Finland, then became editor of another. Depending on the lens through which she was viewed, she was an activist, an agitator, a lecturer. Aligning herself with the Social Democratic Party, she became their most effective orator. She rode the wave of change she helped generate, being elected in the first suffrage-fueled  election as one of nineteen women to be seated in the Finnish Parliament, but, because she refused to march in step with the party in voting on issues, she was not put on the ballot for a second term.

Excluded from Parliament, Maria followed her late husband to the United States, which was also being swept by efforts for social change, with a variety of workers movements, ranging from unionist to socialist to communist, as well as groups focused on women’s issues and suffrage. Maria Raunio’s background blended with the social simmering of the times. She served first as a lecturer for the American-Finnish Socialist Organization, and later became active in workers’ issues, and finally became the editor of the first Finnish-American feminist paper being published in Astoria, a community with a heavy Finnish flavor.

Her goal had always been to earn enough to send for her five surviving children. After only about a year in the United States, she died in Astoria, under circumstances that have never been clarified. Was her death accidental?

A century later, Maria Raunio’s descendants came to Greenwood Cemetery to visit her grave. They shared that the grandfather withheld Maria’s many letters to her children, and told them that their mother had abandoned them. The descendants were shocked at the hammer and sickle on her gravestone, saying, “She was not a communist!”

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Vote. Start planning programs and events now for your community now! For ideas on how to research suffrage and women’s history in your community, visit Oregonheritage.org and refer to our Centennial Vote Planning Guide.

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