by Marguerite Kearns
The first week in July of 1913 represented a high point in bringing the issue of Votes for Women to the public. This is when the campaign suffrage wagon, the “Spirit of 1776,” left the Manhattan office of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association at 108 Madison Avenue in the care of Edna Buckman Kearns and headed to Long Island.
From this point on, campaigners under the state suffrage association’s umbrella barely rested. They barnstormed on foot, gave speeches on street corners, decorated and traveled in automobiles, and hitched horses to wagons to make themselves visible throughout Long Island. Agitating for change and interacting with a wide variety of people was exhausting –but oh, so stimulating– in the July 1913 heat.
Votes for Women activists stayed in touch with each other by phone, letters, and in person. They developed relationships with local and city newspaper reporters, as well as anyone else who would listen. If reporters couldn’t or wouldn’t cover suffrage news, suffragists themselves became reporters and press agents themselves. They stormed through every open door.
Suffragists learned how to make their own news and then participate in the process of gathering it as volunteers in the service of a cause. For many, like Edna Kearns, it wasn’t paid work. But it was an exciting time to be learning about the Big Picture. Starting about 1911, Edna Kearns wrote suffrage columns and edited special newspaper reports about Votes for Women that were published on Long Island and in New York City papers. She was also a squirrel and saved as many of her speeches, news articles, letters, photos, leaflets, and suffrage memorabilia as she could. . .
Watch for more selections from the ongoing story of what happened 100 years ago with organizing for the vote and how the “Spirit of 1776″ theme and wagon played an important role in the unfinished American Revolution. For more information, check out our story and news source: Suffrage Wagon News Channel.
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.
Posted in 60-Second History Lesson
Tagged Edna Kearns, Elisabeth Freeman, New York, Rosalie Jones, Serena Kearns, suffrage movement, suffragettes, suffragists, Votes for Women, Women's History, women's suffrage
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
A rare and precious film clip of 1913 showing Rosalie Jones and Elisabeth Freeman leaving on a hike to Washington, DC for suffrage gives a sense of, not only their courage, but the intense interest in women voting and the need to accelerate the pressure. The story in my family was that my grandmother, Edna Buckman Kearns, planned to take the wagon, the “Spirit of 1776,” on the long trip with Rosalie and Elisabeth, but she backed out at the last minute for health reasons. Edna went to the big march in Washington, but couldn’t commit to the long ordeal of the hikers underwent.
Edna, her husband Wilmer Kearns and their daughter Serena Kearns accompanied Rosalie Jones and Elisabeth Freeman on the 1914 hike to Albany in January, no small accomplishment. Hiking as a media event in the suffrage movement received considerable publicity.
Posted in 19th amendment, civil rights, human rights, right to vote, Votes for Women, voting rights, women, women suffrage
Tagged "Spirit of 1776", Albany, Elisabeth Freeman, New York, Rosalie Jones, Serena Kearns, Wilmer Kearns