Tag Archives: New York

New York State to cash in on tourism related to history

The conference held this week in Albany, New York attracted about 200 people from around the state to discuss the potential of natural, cultural, and heritage tourism in New York and to announce new signs erected on the state thruway and elsewhere directing travelers to various sites. This is excellent for artifacts such as the suffrage campaign wagon now on exhibit at the state capitol through the end of summer. A state policy supporting historical resources and funding programs makes it more likely that the suffrage wagon won’t gather dust in the state museum warehouse. This is good news for Grandmother Edna and a lot of other people.

For more information about this week’s meeting in Albany, NY: Link #1   Link #2

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Suffrage wagon storytelling with the Hudson River Playback Theatre

I hadn’t planned to be on stage with the Hudson River Playback Theatre. In fact, this  was the last thing I predicted the Monday evening I spent attending a performance for organizations attending Service Week at Omega in Rhinebeck, NY.  I’d been on the road the previous three weeks from Long Island to Albany to Binghamton and back to the Hudson Valley again in hot clammy weather.

I was tired, but relaxing in the audience wasn’t meant to be. Hudson River Playback Theatre is interactive story theatre for dialogue and connection. The cast creates memorable theatre on the spot based on the true stories of people in the audience.

“Go up and tell your story,” Susan Zimet urged. Susan sat next to me in the audience, and I ignored her the first time she poked. Then her plea became a kick and an order:  “Do it, now.” You don’t say no to Susan.

Well, okay. I could tell about visiting Albany, the second floor of the capitol, to see Grandmother Edna’s suffrage campaign wagon in the women’s exhibit around the corner from the Hall of Governors. I could talk about Grandmother Edna being part of the grassroots suffrage movement and someone who campaigned in her horse-drawn wagon called the “Spirit of 1776″ on Long Island and NYC.  Then I’d throw in how I’d grown up with this icon of the suffrage movement, mention how every summer when I was a kid, my mother would dress us up. We’d visit my Grandfather Wilmer Kearns and he’d drag the old wagon out of the garage and we’d have our photo taken. It was important to mention how Edna died in 1934, so I had to learn about Edna from my mother and plowing through my grandmother’s writings, speeches, photos, news clippings packed in stacks of boxes. She saved everything.

Sarah Urech, the theatre’s assistant director, interviewed me on stage and made this part of the process easy. Then she asked me to choose who would play me (Jody Santriani), who would play Edna (the theatre’s director Jo Salas), and Grandfather Wilmer (Mateo). Musician Dean Jones backed up the performance on the piano.

Eeverything flowed from that point on with few props other than a curtain, wood boxes, and several scarves. Grandmother Edna came alive on stage, directing traffic from her soapbox wagon, leading marches to Albany, standing firm in her position that all American women should vote. There were few words, other than “Freedom,” and the finale became me, up on the soapbox wagon after Edna had departed, carrying on the unfinished work of the American Revolution.

Sarah Urech’s a master in helping people tell their stories. I found out later that she’s a distant cousin of Jeanette Rankin, suffragist and the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress. So this story joins all the others because Susan Zimet poked me and challenged me to march up to the stage and live beyond the boundaries.

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Suffrage hikers to Washington DC are captured on film

Suffragist Elisabeth Freeman on her soapbox. From the web site elisabethfreeman.org published by her great niece, Peg Johnston.

There’s very little film footage from the suffrage movement, so this 80-second clip from the National Film Preservation Foundation is a treasure. It’s entitled “On to Washington.” The occasion is the suffrage hiking march with Rosalie Jones and Elisabeth Freeman and others who headed south to Washington, DC to join the suffrage parade scheduled to coincide with the inauguration of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1913. My grandparents Edna and Wilmer Kearns marched in that parade, along with Serena Kearns, my mother’s older sister who was born in 1905.

Grandmother Edna Kearns worked on Long Island suffrage organizing with both Rosalie Jones and Elisabeth Freeman. Jones was born and raised on Long Island where she carried out a significant amount of grassroots suffrage work. Elisabeth Freeman was born in England and became a paid organizer for the  movement. Rosalie, Elisabeth, Edna Kearns (along with Wilmer and Serena Kearns) and others started out on the march to Albany from NYC to see the governor about Votes for Women the first week in January of 1914.

Elisabeth Freeman’s web site is published by Elisabeth Freeman’s great niece, Peg Johnston of Binghamton, NY. Visit the Suffrage Wagon News Channel’s new platform.

“Appeal to Liberty” on behalf of the foremothers. . .

Read at the feet of the Statue of Liberty on July 4, 1915

To the Men of New York,

We therefore appeal to you, in the name of justice and fair play, for relief from the intolerable position in which we have been placed.

We protest that no Government is just which taxes and governs half its people without their consent.

We protest that no Government is efficient which is guilty of so absurd a discrimination as that of putting a vote in the hand of male paupers and denying that privilege to at least a third of its taxpayers; of counting the opinion of illiterate males, and denying that count to the 41,000 women teachers of the State.

We protest that no Government is sound which pretends to secure the highest welfare to its people, yet pays no heed to what half its people want.

We protest that no Government is logical which elevates half its people regardless of qualifications to sovereignty and condemns the other half to political subjection.

Justice gave you the vote, in the name of that same great virtue, we ask you to give it to us!

For news clips about the entire story about the “Appeal to Liberty” and Edna Kearns carrying on the work on Long Island, follow this link.

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.”

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