A great article about suffragist Elizabeth Freeman is the cover story in a recent issue of Pasadena Weekly. Their angle: Elisabeth died there, and the editorial staff was particularly interested in Elisabeth’s contribution to the anti-lynching campaign of 1916. They made a link between Elisabeth’s work and the Michael Brown case in Missouri today, welcome coverage because it illustrates the extent to which many Votes for Women activists had more than one concern, reminiscent of the early women’s rights activists involved in abolition and temperance. Elisabeth receives more attention these days for her activism in the suffrage movement, so this is a welcome addition to what’s available about her life and work. PDF of the Pasadena Weekly article.
I’ve been aware of Elizabeth Freeman going back years when I first heard stories about “Great Aunt Elisabeth” from my friend Jane Van De Bogart, a member of the Woodstock town board back when I lived in Woodstock, NY and prowled around local issues with my pen, pad and camera for Woodstock Times. I don’t remember if Jane mentioned her great aunt first or if I trotted out my grandmother Edna Kearns. In any event, one thing led to another.
Two people with family members who’d been suffragists in NYS would sooner or later insist on details and that’s how I found out that not only did Edna and Elizabeth know each other, but they worked together with Rosalie Jones on Long Island on women’s suffrage organizing. As Grandmother Edna Kearns was a Long Island wagon woman, so was Elisabeth Freeman who organized women from diverse backgrounds. Elisabeth also marched with Rosalie Jones to the 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, DC –hardy souls who hiked through bad weather to prove their point.
In 1986 the “Spirit of 1776″ suffrage wagon became part of an exhibit about Elisabeth and Edna in Kingston, NY with a seed grant from the NYS Council on the Arts. Jone Miller and the Floating Foundation of Photography in High Falls, NY organized the exhibit which got me started on the long road to bring this part of American history to the attention of a broader audience. Several programs at SUNY New Paltz for Women’s History Month even involved our mothers.
Pick up a rock these days and you’ll find a descendant of a suffrage activist. That’s why I love Elisabeth Freeman. Peg Johnston has picked up the torch from her great aunt and is carrying it high these days. The general public may know about the suffrage movement nationally, but we find out much more by touching into the lives of individuals like Elisabeth, as well as the records and news coverage of clubs and associations on the local level that kept the suffrage issue alive for years. The existence of these organizations, and their ongoing events and activities, gave backbone to the national movement. Leaders at the top can’t do anything without support on the grassroots.
Follow the Suffrage Wagon for news and views of the suffrage movement.
We have an ongoing podcast series: “Playing Politics with the President” that features the work of the National Woman’s Party right at the time of Elisabeth Freeman’s work. Podcast #1. You can listen to the next podcast in the series, #2, this coming weekend.