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.
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.
Posted in 60-Second History Lesson, Long Island, Nassau County, New York
Tagged Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Edna Kearns, Nassau County, suffrage movement, suffragists, Votes for Women, Women's History, women's suffrage
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.
Rain, snow, sleet, or blisters couldn’t stop a Votes for Women march from New York City to Albany during the first week of January in 1914. I like to call it a story about a stubborn streak of spirit.
When woman’s suffrage hike leader Rosalie Jones ordered, “Forward, March,” my grandmother Edna Kearns, grandfather Wilmer Kearns, and their young daughter Serena fell into line. They’re highlighted in the NY Tribune photo on January 1, 1914 when they joined the hike to see the governor about votes for women. This group of 30 people from NYC and Long Island set out from Manhattan on that freezing winter day with high spirits. Only three hikers made it the entire 166 miles in six days. For the rest –including my grandparents– participation in the event became part of family oral history for a job well done, which was making a social issue visible. This visibility led to change.
No one could have predicted 98 years ago that women voters would play a pivotal role in the upcoming 2012 election. Back then, merely joining a march to Albany was definitely outside the box.
Before 1914, some crowds jeered suffrage hikers along the march routes. The tide of public opinion shifted somewhat by 1914,and the hikers to Albany were cheered on as they headed north. The activists were tough. They stuck with it, though it took much more on-the-ground organizing before New York State women finally won the vote in 1917. And it wasn’t until 1920 when all American women were able to exercise this basic right.
The story of the 1914 suffrage march stands the test of time because it is part political and part human interest –plus a little romance, sore feet, and spirited speeches in towns and villages along the route. The Votes for Women hikers attracted widespread media attention, and they rallied supporters throughout the Hudson Valley. Media accounts such as these were popular in their day:
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.
Posted in 60-Second History Lesson, Edna Buckman Kearns, New York City
Tagged Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Edna Kearns, Rosalie Jones, Serena Kearns, suffrage movement, suffragettes, suffragists, Votes for Women, women's suffrage
Edna knew that the women of New York were making history. And when a pageant was held at the Armory in New York City involving 500 performers and broad, vast and innovative subject matter, she made sure the news was spread through her writing.
Both Edna Buckman Kearns and daughter Serena Kearns were featured in the New York Herald’s April 1914 coverage of the event. Serena played a child, and Edna, a nurse. The production, “The American Woman: Six Periods of American Life” by Hazel MacKaye was not only ambitious, but it was considered a milestone in the suffrage movement’s production of pageants with significant social commentary. Inez Milholland played the woman of the future. Susan B. Anthony would have been proud.
This blog post is yet another episode of “The Adventures of Edna Buckman Kearns,” the news about her suffrage campaign wagon (now in the collection of the NYS Museum), and another example of how my grandmother dedicated her life to bring about Votes for Women. Stay tuned!
Picture a torchlight meeting, an automobile parade, and open-air meeting. Huntington, New York piled on the welcome when my grandmother Edna Kearns and the “Spirit of 1776″ wagon hit town. Long Island activist Rosalie Jones drove her yellow suffrage campaign wagon in the parade as well.
Horse-drawn wagons may seem quaint to us today, but at the time it was quite a stunt for women to be out in the streets. They took advantage of the novelty by decorating their campaign wagons with Votes for Women banners. Come to think of it, a horse-drawn wagon put in the service of any cause today will attract some attention. Marketing plans were relatively new back then, and the suffrage movement activists took advantage of every opportunity to spread the word.
An article of July 27, 1913 notes that Edna Kearns’ suffrage wagon was also known as a “one hoss shay.” Geoffrey Stein, who’s now retired from the New York State Museum as its transportation curator, told me in the past that Edna’s horse-drawn campaign wagon (used on Long Island and in New York City) is representative of other such wagons used by the suffrage movement for parades, as speaking platforms, and more. Most of these wood vehicles, like the yellow wagon used by Rosalie Jones, weren’t preserved and they were put to other uses after 1920.
I’m curious. Google may be great about some things, but my search came up short when I typed in the word “votersvilles” which is mentioned in the last line of the linked article. Anyone know what this means?
To me, she was Aunt Serena. To the many people who knew my grandmother Edna, Serena was the poster child for the suffrage movement in New York City and Long Island. Edna Kearns was the suffrage editor for The Brooklyn Daily Eagle which meant Serena went everywhere with her mother. She rode in the suffrage wagon, handed out literature and even went to Washington, DC to picket the White House. Photo from the collection of Edna Buckman Kearns.