Tag Archives: Edna Kearns
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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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.”
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
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:
Posted in 60-Second History Lesson
Tagged Alice Paul, Alva Bemont, Doris Stevens, Edna Kearns, Edna May Buckman, suffrage movement, suffragists, Susan B. Anthony, Votes for Women, Women's History, women's suffrage
Edna not only put herself out in public, but she documented herself every step of the way. A conversation with an attorney became a newspaper column in four-part harmony. Poor guy. He admitted that voting might be okay for Edna, but not for his wife. He wouldn’t let her vote. And so on. See the entire exchange. Edna Kearns made the point that politics must be the concern of women. See her piece about how politics resides within each baby.
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The Kearns motor car company manufactured different models over the years, and my grandfather Wilmer R. Kearns made the family automobile business a focus after he married my grandmother Edna and they moved to New York City in 1904 from the Philadelphia area. Building wagons and horse-drawn buggies ran in the Kearns family, so it wasn’t surprising when Wilmer’s brother Maxwell Kearns started manufacturing automobiles in Beavertown, PA where both Max and Wilmer were raised. While in NYC, Wilmer represented the Kearns Motor Car Company with an office in midtown Manhattan.
A Kearns motor car is on permanent exhibit at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. For more information about the Kearns car.
Edna and Wilmer Kearns lived in both NYC and Rockville Centre on Long Island where Edna participated in suffrage organizing. The Kearns vehicle on exhibit at the Pennsylvania state museum is “The Lulu,” named after Max and Wilmer’s sister, Lou, who collaborated with Edna on Votes for Women organizing on Long Island. Below: letterhead for Kearns Motor Car Company in New York City.
Suffragist Rosalie Jones of Long Island used a yellow horse-drawn wagon. Edna Kearns traveled in another suffrage wagon, the “Spirit of 1776.” They toured, gave speeches, recruited supporters. At the end of the day, they were special guests of honor at dinner. See article below in The Long Islander. Note, however, that Edna’s daughter is recorded as Irene. Actually, it was Serena. And little Serena was a suffrage poster child. Her onstage appearance in a suffrage pageant at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City is noted in this article., as well as the effort put into organizing on Long Island for Votes for Women.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
Posted in 60-Second History Lesson, Edna Buckman Kearns, Long Island, New York State Woman Suffrage Association, New York State Women's History, Women's Suffrage, women's history
Tagged "Spirit of 1776", Edna Kearns, Mrs. Raymond Brown, suffrage movement, suffragists, Votes for Women, Women's History, 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!
The suffragists didn’t wait for the editors of big newspapers to recognize them. When it happened –great. But the suffs weren’t satisfied with sitting around and biting their nails. When the number of Long Island newspapers expanded at the turn of the 20th century, the women took advantage of it. Grandmother Edna Kearns was in the forefront of citizen reporters who generated a hefty amount of suffrage material to fill the news holes of local papers.
The suffs hit the ground running at a time in history when it took considerable effort for a woman to land a reporter’s job in a news room. So they documented their own news and distributed it. The South Side Observer, for example, set aside 500 extra copies of the suffrage special issue, which the women clipped and saved. Grandmother Edna was instrumental in collecting quotes for this special issue from prominent community members who favored Votes for Women.
Suffrage advocates also published their own newspapers and newsletters; they arranged with photographic agencies to cover their events. They lobbied editors for special issues, wrote letters to newspaper editors for publication, prepared and distributed their own press releases, wrote leaflets in a variety of languages for distribution among immigrant communities. When this wasn’t enough, they carried soapboxes into the street, stood up on them, and commanded the attention of anyone who passed by.
All of this constitutes sophisticated grassroots organizing. So, for those who believe that Saul Alinsky invented community organizing, history should be rewritten to say that he stood on the shoulders of the suffragists and others. The suffs operated from outside the political system and they were brilliant in finding ways to impact it.
Even children were on the speaking circuit to win votes for women –something important to remember. After spending “Suffrage Day” in 1914 organizing an automobile parade and open-air meetings, Brooklyn suffragists sent a Votes for Women appeal to President Woodrow Wilson by carrier pigeon. The NY Times covered the pigeon release. Grandmother Edna was busy speaking that day at Union Square Park in Manhattan. The article noted that when Edna spoke, she was accompanied by her ten-year-old daughter Serena Kearns. Edna wasn’t feeling well that day, but she dragged herself to the podium, as the article notes.
Other young girls, in addition to Serena, participated in the movement. On Suffrage Day in 1913, one such youngster (Dorothy Frooks) spoke from the podium to the hundreds of people gathered. According to the account, Dorothy had been on the suffrage speaking trail since the age of seven. The NY Times reported on another of Dorothy’s speaking engagements.
It wasn’t easy being married to a suffragist. Take the article below, for example, where men were jeered from the parade sidelines and one joker handed the male marchers an armful of weeds. My grandfather Wilmer Kearns marched in that 1911 parade. And he probably had something to do with the 1915 book I found in my grandmother Edna’s archives, How it feels to be the husband of a suffragette. It’s free for a download and is available as a Google book or on archive.org
The book is funny. It’s true. It’s a great reminder about the process of social change and where change meets resistance. The article below also points out another perspective –the crowds of people watching the Votes for Women parade and how it was an enormous attraction to see women out in the streets, exposing themselves to make their point. There came a time, of course, when parades became old news. But they served a useful purpose. May 1911. from the collection of Pamela Hobbs-Glackmeyer.
The upcoming November election, the Day of the Dead, and the 90th anniversary of U.S. women voting all converge with a shrine to suffragist Edna Buckman Kearns that will be on display from October 25 through November 14 in Silver City, New Mexico in the Silver City Day of the Dead Shrine Show. The exhibit, spread throughout Silver City in 14 businesses and galleries, showcases the shrines of 21 artists. The opening reception is Friday, October 29, 2010, 6-9 p.m. at the A-Space Studio Gallery, 110 West 7th Street. Exhibits fall into the categories of contemporary and traditional shrines. Many shrines are traditional, such as Chickie Beltran’s shrine honoring miners and Gloria Beltran’s shrine honoring the Apache.
“Five Generations and the Million Dollar Wagon” is an example of a contemporary shrine in the form of a 19-minute documentary honoring Edna Buckman Kearns who campaigned for woman’s suffrage. This shrine also acknowledges the thousands of American women who campaigned for the vote over a 70-year period, an effort which was launched in 1848 with the woman’s rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York.
Posted in 19th amendment, New York State Women's History, Suffrage Wagon, Votes for Women, voting rights, woman's suffrage, women, women suffrage, women's history
Tagged Day of the Dead, Edna Kearns, New Mexico, Seneca Falls, Silver City