Category Archives: 60-Second History Lesson

Oregon suffrage centennial has plenty of photo opps and dressups!

Former Oregon governor Barbara Roberts, center, with LuAnn Trotebas, left, and Alyce Cornyn-Selby, right, from the National Hat Museum, wearing vintage 1912 hats at a Oregon 2012 suffrage centennial event. Photos courtesy of Oregon Women’s History Consortium, Century of Action project. Photos by Andie Petkus.

The story of suffrage is inching across the nation. The states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and Washington have observed their centennials. Oregon, Kansas and Arizona are in the midst of it now, and with this –the awareness of a remarkable time in history grows stronger.

Former Oregon governor Barbara Roberts has been playing an important role by emphasizing the importance of this observance as she travels on the speakers’ circuit. See article.  Roberts gave a speech before the City Club of Portland in the past year where she told the audience:

“History is meant, not to sit on a shelf, but to devour and think about and talk about and share.” She called the suffrage movement something “. . . that’s little told and is highly under appreciated” and how this “is about to change.” Roberts’ perspective is shared by many: “We’re bringing our place in history out of the shadows” and she’s reminded of Susan B. Anthony’s charge: “Never another season of silence.”

But what has happened in the past 100 years? This article from the Portland Tribune raises the question of how much footing women have gained in Oregon’s political arena.

More to come about the Oregon suffrage centennial. Subscribe to Suffrage Wagon News Channel for news and updates.

Susan B. Anthony is a corker! Find out for yourself!

Cartoon of Susan B. Anthony

They called her Aunt Susan and she had so many adopted nieces, people couldn’t keep count. That’s why this post features a ten-minute audio clip from “Jailed for Freedom” by Doris Stevens, published back in Grandmother Edna’s day, that gives you a feeling of almost being there.

Susan B. Anthony died before the ratification of the 19th amendment that gave women the right to vote in 1920. So when August 26th comes around this year, at a time when people aren’t usually thinking about Aunt Susan, consider the possibility of having a party. There are lessons to be learned by putting on a skit about Susan. How about courage? Vision. Inner strength. She had her eye on the prize of women voting and wouldn’t give up. These themes are eternal.

I didn’t even have a script when I directed and produced my own Susan skit back in 2010. I went to the primary sources, lifted lines straight from the record, recruited the cast, and everyone had a blast with dress ups. The audience got the point.

So if you’ve been toying with the idea of putting on a program for August 26th (Women’s Equality Day) or a special fundraiser or other event for your friends, organization, or club, try Susan B. Anthony’s arrest in 1872 and her trial for voting. The trial was a hit at the Susan B. Anthony birthday party I organized in February of 2010, and it’s especially relevant for other special events because it’s an example of nonviolent civil disobedience. Susan was arrested for voting, and everyone knew back then that women couldn’t vote.

The audio clip on this post is a wonderful resource, plus the internet is a great resource for finding quotes from Susan, as well as her speeches, for reading out loud.  Here’s Susan B.’s petition to Congress in January of 1874. And resources from Susan’s trial record. Think about it! It’s a great way to introduce young people to Aunt Susan and there are great parts: Susan, the officer who arrests her, the district attorney, and the judge. Drama, conflict, plenty of action. Great lines.

Now –see how you do on a quiz about Susan B. Anthony.

Six-part interview series on the overview of suffrage history

Among serious suffrage buffs, you either like Carrie Chapman Catt or you don’t. Some believe she got too much credit for the suffrage win, and others would say not enough. Chances are, most people today haven’t heard of her. So the six-part interview series featuring Nate Levin might be filed away in the deep archives of human memory, except for the fact that Levin lays out a simple story line explaining the suffrage movement which is worth spending some time with.

Nate Levin wraps himself in the term “suffrage buff,” so much so that he created a Facebook page called Suffrage Buffs of America. His mother was a loyal member of the League of Women Voters (Grandmother Edna was a member) which has turned into a lifelong interest for Nate. He’s written  a book about Carrie Chapman Catt that’s free on Google Books. (It’s also available in hard copy). You can get to know more about Nate by way of YouTube in this five-part suffrage interview series: Program #1, Program #2, Program #3. Program #4. Program #5. Program #6.  And there’s more about Nate Levin on Suffrage Wagon News Channel where we feature his Facebook page that’s geared to other suffs like Nate…and me. There’s a great deal of information out there about the suffs, and it’s comforting to find a corner where people talk about these subjects.

Grandmother Edna Kearns presented an “Appeal to Liberty” to thousands

The Votes for Women activists took their appeal to the Statue of Liberty on the 4th of July in 1915. It’s an example of the bold tactics of the suffragists in 1915 which didn’t win them the vote during that campaign, but it certainly sent a message that the issue wouldn’t go away.

One version of the story is told about New York City where huge suffrage parades and demonstrations put an “Appeal to Liberty” (read by suffragists) into the mainstream awareness as it became an essential element of the Fourth of July observance. See the Fourth of July 1915 coverage in the Times.

Grandmother Edna Kearns carried the “Appeal to Liberty” theme to Long Island where this report noted that local firefighters gave Edna the platform to speak about Votes for Women and thousands listened. News about Edna is in the second column.

Photo: Associated Press.

Some activists threw themselves into the suffrage cause at their own peril

From a 1914 newspaper, the “Daily Herald,” depicting “Miss Davison.” By Will Dyson.

. . .such as the UK’s Emily Davidson who threw herself in front of the King’s horse. More is coming out about Davison and the details of her life, inlcuding the tale of how Davison hid herself in a crypt so she could use Parliament as her home address as a way to lobby for the vote. The posting comments are as interesting as the researcher’s report.

The film clip of Emily Davison’s dramatic protest is well known, and the clip of her funeral procession in London impacts us as only film can do.

What did Grandmother Edna Kearns say when standing on her campaign wagon?

Grandmother Edna kicked up a fuss on Long Island in 1912 as she kept the newspapers filled with suffrage news. She connected the dots between current events and the need for the vote, whether in the newspaper columns she wrote or when campaigning after 1913 in her horse-drawn suffrage wagon now on exhibit at the state capitol in Albany, NY through the summer of 2012.

You can’t have a baby without engaging in politics, Edna argued. And she raised eyebrows among other suffragists who believed they shouldn’t venture outside their limited sphere of lobbying for the vote. Edna raised her voice about the scandal at the Mineola jail and ventured forth to say that women would take care of community business better then men. Just give women a chance, she said.

When the newspapers carried the controversy, Edna defended herself from those who claimed her Better Babies campaign on Long Island was merely a “fad,” a ploy for “sensationalism.” Edna’s motivation? She insisted she was concerned that mothers didn’t have all the skills they needed for mothering and vowed to establish parenting classes. Underlying her argument, of course, was how much women needed the vote! This speaks to us today by remembering the interconnectedness of issues and reaching out to others to bring us together in linking our past with taking leadership in these times.

“Holding the Torch for Liberty”: June 3, 2012 suffrage musical gala in Manhattan

“Holding the Torch for Liberty” is the story of Sarah, a seamstress at the Liberty Pants Factory and suffragist allies who campaign for the right to vote in 1920. With the help of The Statute of Liberty, the students involved in the musical production overcome all obstacles and participate in a story about a great American civil rights movement.

Set aside June 3, 2012 for The Jazz Drama Program Summer Gala, 2-5 pm at Urban Stages in NYC. It’s a celebration of the work of The Jazz Drama Program with artistic director Eli Yamin, special guest Mercedes Ellington and honoring Dr. William Rodriguez, Latin Jazz Pianist, principal and founder of the Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music.

The event features a live performance of scenes and songs from “Holding the Torch for Liberty,” the jazz musical about women’s suffrage by Eli Yamin and Clifford Carlson, and performed by students from Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music. Refreshments and a champagne toast are included in the ticket price. This is a wonderful opportunity to support a program that builds leadership through stories about the suffrage movement.

Tickets to this event are limited and can be purchased for $100. For more information. Each ticket holder will receive a copy of the cast CD of “Holding the Torch for Liberty” signed by the authors.

Albany women’s exhibit has the “Spirit of 1776″

The “Spirit of 1776″ suffrage campaign wagon on display at NYS capitol in Albany, NY

Grandmother Edna Kearns’ suffrage wagon is highlighted in the exhibition, “From Seneca Falls to the Supreme Court,” that’s presently on display at the NYS capitol in Albany, New York. It constitutes a must-see experience and well worth my long trip to arrive here early this week. With the suffrage wagon named the “Spirit of 1776″ as an exhibit centerpiece, the freedom theme is magnified by the panels featuring individual women from New York who have made a significant mark on state and national history, as well as current affairs.

“From Seneca Falls to the Supreme Court: New York’s women leading the way” balances the recently-opened Hall of the Governors, filled with portraits of men, with an exhibit introductory panel highlighting a statement rarely seen in public:

While women”… may not have always been the individuals passing the laws, women were writing the policies, organizing campaigns and generating awareness. For too long, these efforts have been minimized, omitted from the history books or forgotten completely.”

Hats off to the planners, researchers, governor and state museum staff and supporters responsible for the exhibition. See links: Capitol web site and coverage by Capitol Confidential.

The English suffragettes relaxed their stiff upper lips

When people say they feel helpless in the face of overwhelming odds, an attitude or obstacle, it’s time for all of us to remember the serious resistance the British women were up against in their fight for the ballot. The suffragettes’ bold tactics became known worldwide after their decision to stretch the bondaries. Here’s a selection from Mary Walton’s 2010 book, A Woman’s Crusade:

“All over England, suffragettes ‘hid in bushes and under platforms, scaled roofs, let themselves down through skylights in order to interrupt meetings with the dreaded call, ‘votes for women.'”

While the suffrage story has been very low key for many years, it’s jumping into center stage in England with the announcement of the upcoming year’s centennial celebration of Emily Davison. Many of her relatives are involved, including the release of material previously unavailable. Check it out. The trailer of “Everything is Possible,” a UK film about Sylvia Pankhurst is a must see, if you haven’t run across it already. It’s a story of vision, determination, and a lifelong dedication to the goal of freedom. There’s also a fascinating link on the film’s web site about Sylvia’s security files compiled by the British government.

Behind the scenes of great suffrage music video, “Bad Romance”

Chances are that you’ve seen the suffrage music video, “Bad Romance,” a parody of Lady Gaga. But have you seen the behind-the-scenes production short (link above)? The increase in creative material about the suffrage movement is exciting and noteworthy.  Here are a few examples:

A stroll on the new Rochester Heritage Trail. Boston Marathon runners who acknowledge those who came before them. Activism exhibit in New York City. New book to be published in July 2012 from Rutgers University Press: “The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.”

In what ways have you been contributing to this outpouring of love and appreciation toward the tens of thousands of women who participated in this extraordinary civil rights movement?

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Watch a suffrage story on video and share your suffrage story

Did you know about the picketing of the White House by suffragists? This is a story we can’t tell often enough. The headquarters of the National Woman’s Party in Washington, DC (aka the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum) has prepared this video using some archival images many people have not seen.

These wonderful and energetic folks at the Sewall-Bemont House & Museum have launched a virtual campaign called “Share Your Story. Save HerStory.” It’s precisely the kind of campaign that builds leadership through stories of the suffrage movement, which is the mission of Suffrage Wagon News Channel.

Contact Elisabeth Crum at 202-546-1210 ext, 17, or send her an email with your answers to the following questions: “Why is woman suffrage important to you? Why will you vote this year? Who are the women (past and present) who inspire you to vote? What do you think women should know about the WNP and how will that move them to vote in 2012?” Stories will be collected as blog posts, video, Facebook, and Twitterview. For more information.

I’ll be participating in the story campaign. What about you? Stay up to date with news and stories of the suffrage movement: suffragewagon.org

I love this story of Grandmother Edna Kearns!


Here’s what happened almost a hundred years ago. Grandmother Edna Kearns expected to be a speaker at a community event as she set out for the evening with this purpose in mind. She was, after all, as the article notes: “a well known suffrage speaker.” When turned away at the door of a Republican Party rally, Grandmother Edna didn’t take the situation lightly. She stood up on a automobile nearby and expounded on the topic of Votes for Women to the people passing by on the street, as well as those headed to the meeting. She held forth for at least two hours and refused give in –one example of many instances of her hard-headed style.

After the event, Grandmother Edna made certain more people knew about what happened. She wrote for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and this article appeared on November 1, 1915. It’s worth a read.  Not only because it’s yet another untold story of the suffrage movement. But it’s a lesson in determination and persistence that we can learn from today. The photo above isn’t of Grandmother Edna, but it illustrates the interest suffrage speakers sparked when they spoke in the streets.

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Alice Paul: the most overlooked civil rights leader of the 20th century!

Alice Paul is finally getting the recognition she deserves. Yet, during her lifetime she wasn’t interested in glory. She kept her eye on the prize: women’s rights and the vote. This video fills in a great deal. And keep in mind that author Mary Walton never heard of Alice Paul before a newspaper editor brought Paul to her attention. Meanwhile, this interview highlights where Walton calls Paul “the most overlooked civil rights leader of the 20th century.”

The local suffrage wrinkle: Debates on Long Island street corners

We continue with the untold story of the local wrinkle on the suffrage movement in New York State. As we move toward NYS’s centennial of winning the vote in 1917, we’ll see an increasing interest in this part of our history. The articles linked on this blog are primarily from the archives of Grandmother Edna Kearns.

The suffrage movement tapped the power of the press when its activists witnessed and reported on the news, much as citizen journalists do today. Writers and activists like Edna Buckman Kearns reported for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and local publications on Long Island. Edna also lived part time in New York City where her husband Wilmer Kearns was employed and her young daughter Serena attended a Quaker school. Edna gave her full attention to organizing Long Island for woman’s suffrage. Her reports in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle gave considerable detail to the grassroots organizing efforts, of which this article and others demonstrate.

Elisabeth Freeman was among the suffrage campaigners, along with Edna Kearns and others who spread out to cover organizations where numbers of men would congregate, such as the firemens’ convention. They showed up with literature and made a visual impact. The community reactions and how the suffragists responded were documented in detail.

Back to contemporary times: I enjoy reading the press coverage of England’s suffrage movement. The Brits’ coverage of this time in their history is extremely creative. For example, there’s a recent piece on a descendant of Emily Davison, best known for throwing herself in front of the king’s horse. And an excellent article on how the sinking of the Titanic impacted the suffragette movement in  England.

Grandmother Edna Kearns’ suffrage wagon on exhibit in Albany, NY

An article in “Albany Kid” by Tara Bloyd, Edna Kearns’ great granddaughter, is spreading the word to a younger audience about the exhibition of the suffrage campaign wagon used by Edna Buckman Kearns currently underway at the NYS capitol in Albany, NY.

A Brooklyn wagon company donated the wagon to the state woman’s suffrage movement in 1913. Considerable information about the wagon and its use for grassroots activism during the suffrage movement has been presented on Suffrage Wagon News Channel over the past two years.

The article in “Albany Kid” highlights the exhibit underway at the state capitol honoring  New York State’s extraordinary women as represented in many arenas, including suffrage. The exhibit’s in the Hall of Governors in the state capitol and is part of an ambitious program by NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo to make more public space available for educational and historical exhibits. The exhibit runs through April and possibly into May.

Grandmother Edna took the “Suffrage Special” to Washington, DC

It’s one thing to read about the split between Alice Paul and the main suffrage organization at the time, NAWSA. It’s quite another to realize that Grandmother Edna witnessed it. An article in the New York Tribune in November following the big 1913 suffrage parade laid out how the New Yorkers headed to Washington, DC for the NAWSA convention. Edna boarded the train with the New York delegation, accompanied by women whose names may be familiar to lovers of suffrage history: Inez Mulholland, Mary Garrett HayElisabeth Freeman, Ida Craft, Mrs. Arthur Livermore, Portia Willis and many others. It would be the national convention where the split between NAWSA’s direction and that of Alice Paul came to the fore in its recorded documents.

Alice Paul $10 gold coin issued to honor suffragist

The new $10 gold coin isn’t something that most of us will get our hands on, though it’s expected to be popular with collectors. An article in “Coin Week” recently questioned how the Paul coin could be issued by the U.S. government in the first place. The coin’s intended to be part of a series of presidential dollar coins for President Chester Garfield (1881-1885) and columnist Louis Golino suggests that the coin’s ill suited for the series.

There’s no doubt, however, that Alice Paul should be better recognized for her contributions to U.S. history. Whereas Ghandi took note of the British suffragettes and their campaign for the vote, he bristled when they broke windows to get their point across. Alice Paul served time in an English jail for her suffrage activism which was difficult to keep out of the American press, especially when she went on a hunger strike and was subjected to forced feeding, an experience which steeled her for the Votes for Women campaign in the U.S.

When writing to her mother from England in 1909, Alice explained the reasoning: “…to resist prison –passively by taking no food & also by refusing to obey any of the regulations, with the purpose of making the situation more acute & consequently bringing it to an end sooner.” She noted that this was in the spiritual tradition of Quakers: “…simply a policy of passive resistance & and as a Quaker thee ought to approve of that.”

Suffrage pageants were cutting edge for their time

Hazel MacKaye (shown above) was riding high in 1914 when her pageant, “The American Woman: Six Periods of American Life” was performed at the Seventy-first Regimental Armory (sponsored by the New York City Men’s League for Equal Suffrage). This cutting-edge production milked the potential when combining drama and social commentary. Grandmother Edna Kearns was involved, not only in the event’s organization, but also the performance. Historians now note that women’s pageants shifted to beauty contents in the years following the suffrage movement. In their time, though, suffrage pageants were less confrontational than parades and demonstrations. And they were an emotional training ground for later forms of protest, such as picketing the White House.

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Forty barefoot maidens in a suffrage victory dance

Edna Kearns documented as well as participated in the suffrage movement in the New York City area. She wrote for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the Brooklyn Times and many Long Island papers. She’s shown here in a news photo, fourth from the left, in an article describing the performers in the 1914 Armory pageant. Edna noted in pencil on the clipping that she had written the article, not unusual because she was press chair for many events and campaigns. And she submitted copy to many newspapers that was printed with and without her byline. Lulu Kearns, my grandmother Wilmer Kearns’ sister from Beavertown, PA, is noted in the article as a pageant participant!

I love the part describing the “forty beautiful maidens in a final dance of victory.”

Putting their bodies on the line: Suffragettes arrested!

There came a time in the American, as well as the English woman’s suffrage campaigns, when it became obvious that without bolder action, progress couldn’t be made.

A BBC audio recording of nine minutes made in 1946 features suffragette Ada Flatman speaking about risking arrest for the suffrage campaign in England. This first-person account by a very proper English woman is not only a delight to listen to, but an insight into how the more traditional advocacy of lobbying and education hadn’t worked in London, and the movement had moved to a new level of pressure. Recent BBC coverage of the English suffrage movement raises the question of whether or not the current British government should apologize for the acts of a past administration. The commentary shows the way in which history remains a present-day consideration.

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Men joined the bandwagon for Votes for Women

Whether or not the remarkable response from men for suffrage was expected back in 1914 isn’t clear. However, this article published in the New York Herald about the huge suffrage pageant at the Armory documents a growing and more influential suffrage movement.  The article noted that support from men had grown significantly in the previous three years and how enthusiastic men had stepped forward to be patrons of the Armory ball and pageant. Even children, including little Serena Kearns, were part of the production, as well as other children of the period. As the article shows below, my grandparents demonstrated their support as patrons.

Support for suffrage pageant from many quarters

Suffragists were publicity hounds . . .

Keeping the suffrage issue constantly in front of the public was a daunting task. Grandmother Edna Kearns got news coverage when standing on a street corner and speaking about suffrage. Here’s an example from a Long Island local paper:

Valentine’s Day stories about suffrage, PLUS a composer who used a toothbrush to conduct a song!

The Brits have come through royally with their recent media coverage of the English suffrage movement. Especially with the first broadcast of audio interviews of suffragettes recorded back in 1977 by prominent British historian Brian Harrison. This past weekend’s BBC radio special,  “The Lost World of the Suffragettes,” reveals the character, political context, and personalities of these gutsy activists. This coverage adds much to the rich collection of Votes for Women stories.

The BBC television pieces entitled Christabel Pankhurst: “I wanted to assault a policeman”  and another recent segment called “Fight to clear Derby suffragette Alice Wheeldon’s name” are worth the five minutes or so you’ll spend watching. The BBC news magazine even has an article raising the question of whether or not the English suffragettes were regarded as terrorists in their day.

Note the valentine illustration above by American artist Ellen Clappsaddle. There’s no doubt where she stood on the issue of Votes for Women!

Stories of the suffrage movement can also tickle your funny bone. A favorite of mine is about the well-known British composer, Dame Ethel Smyth,  imprisoned for the suffrage struggle in England. When serving time in Holloway prison, Smyth leaned out of her cell and used her toothbrush to conduct the suffragettes in the prison yard singing “The March of the Women,” the work Smyth composed.

You can hear Smyth’s own voice on a special podcast from the BBC. Come on, now. This podcast is only three minutes long. Painless. And don’t forget that Susan B. Anthony’s birthday is February 15th! This link to the Susan B. Anthony Day notes the opposition to it becoming a national holiday though Susan’s day is observed or celebrated officially in several states.

We are surrounded by greatness. Do you hear the suffrage call?

I love it when examples pop up on the web where the suffrage legacy of our ancestors is cited. Kristi Rendahl says this in her Op Ed piece about her suffragist great-grandmother:

“My great-grandmother is but one example of strength. I surround myself with pictures and memories of family members–men and women alike–who have shown might in times of distress. I serve food on my mom’s trays and use my grandmother’s silverware at meals. I play from my great-aunt’s songbooks on my grandmother’s piano. I drink wine from my aunt’s wine glasses. I sleep in my grandparents’ bed. I hang my great-aunt’s artwork on my wall. I listen to music on my grandfather’s Edison player. I soak up the journalled memories of my pioneer great-grandmother.

“I am never alone, because they and an army of love and wisdom are behind me. Anything I encounter will not surpass their stories. Anything I conquer will be because of the lessons they’ve taught me. And we are all enveloped in this greatness, if we remember to see it and let it feed the core of our being. Do you hear the call? Do you hear my great-grandmother saying ‘no’ to injustice? Do you hear your own conscience saying that there are some things that are simply not acceptable?”

Edee Lemonier speaks about her grandmother being bundled up to be carried to a Votes for Women demonstration in downtown Chicago featured in this New Agenda point of view.

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How could a wealthy woman like Alva Belmont be a radical Votes for Women advocate?