Monthly Archives: December 2011

“Happy New Year, Suffragette”: Grandmother Edna’s New Year’s Eve story

A little story written by my grandmother in 1913 about speaking on a street corner on New Year’s Eve in New York City followed a rant about being abused by hecklers in the Washington DC suffrage parade. Edna tacked on the New Year’s Eve story in a column she wrote comparing the experiences of suffragists in New York parades versus that of Washington, DC.  Grandmother Edna concluded: “New York men are the best in the United States.” When Edna had finished her presentation about Votes for Women, the crowd yelled, “Happy New Year, Suffragette.” From the South Side Observer, March 14, 1913.


Will the 2017’s suffrage centennial events match the women of 1913?

During one week in May of 1913, New York State suffragists planned a whirlwind schedule of activities to support the suffrage movement. My question is this:  Will the centennial celebrants of 2017 in New York State match the women of my grandmother Edna’s generation? The above newspaper clip is from one of Edna’s newspaper columns. 

What Edna Kearns will do for votes in this cold and snowy weather. . .

Grandmother Edna had a hard time saying “no” when it came to campaigning for Votes for Women. And she was a particularly soft touch when suffrage activist Rosalie Jones asked for volunteers to march to Albany. It’s quite a boat ride from New York City to Albany, not to mention the journey by train. But Rosalie really meant it when she asked for others to march alongside with her, out in the street, facing the winter weather.

A demonstration like this made good copy, and the suffragists were clear about the importance of staying in the forefront of the news. They marched out of New York City the first week of January in 1914, determined to speak to the governor about appointing poll watchers for the upcoming 1915 state suffrage referendum. Only a handful actually made it from start to finish, but this shouldn’t be surprising. These days we stay home when snowflakes fall. Anybody demonstrating on the streets so soon after New Year’s Day would inevitably attract attention.

Both my grandparents started out on the march, along with daughter Serena Kearns, who was nine years old. They finished the first leg of the journey, and then Edna rushed home to write her story and deliver it to the Brooklyn Eagle where she published a column and edited special suffrage features. The NY Times had a straight-forward version of the event, while Edna’s accounts focused on the Votes for Women issue and human interest. While the Hudson Valley press had been primarily positive, a few Hudson Valley papers such as the Kingston Daily Freeman criticized the women for not being of sound mind.

Edna used the experience as a reference in her speeches and newspaper writing.

One of the most shocking protests in British history!

What I love about this segment from UK television is the fact that the program focuses on family members of one of Britain’s most famous suffragettes.  More about this.

On a freezing winter night, listen to Votes for Women storytelling. . .

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but the snow’s lingering on the ground and one freezing day follows another. This is the time to listen to another installment of Doris Stevens and her first-person account of the suffrage movement. This isn’t a version written by a scholar years after the event. Doris was there in the thick of the action. And she tells the tale of what it was like to win Votes for Women, on the ground.

During my early years in elementary school, the suffrage movement had been summed up in a single sentence by my 8th grade social studies teacher who said: “And then in 1920, women were given the vote.” Even I knew that the teacher portrayed the accomplishment much differently than how it actually happened. Doris takes us along as she describes in Jailed for Freedom the tedious and persistent tasks engaged in by the suffragists. In this five-minute selection, Doris highlights how the suffragists lobbied U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. If they hadn’t persisted, the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution wouldn’t have been possible.

On this cold wintry night, treat yourself to this audio account by Doris that gives one respect for the hard work and sacrifice of tens of thousands of women, including grandmother Edna.

Suffrage Wagon News Channel is two years old!!!

It wasn’t easy being a suffragist’s husband!

I grew up under the wing of my grandfather Wilmer R. Kearns (shown above) who told me all about Grandmother Edna who died years before I was born. One of Grandmother Edna Kearns’ forays into the world of citizen journalism was to cover a speech by Theodore Roosevelt and write it up in one of her columns. In the piece, Edna appealed to what she called “broad minded thinking men,” the very same men the suffs needed to reach for the upcoming 1915 New York State suffrage referendum. For someone like my grandfather Wilmer, it wasn’t easy marching in the men’s divisions of suffrage parades.

Being a presence in the community and monitoring public figures was part of the suffragists’ strategy. Edna’s 1914 article covering Roosevelt’s positions on issues relevant to women speaks volumes about working conditions back then, and it’s another example of grandmother Edna’s citizen journalism supporting the cause of Votes for Women.