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!
Suffrage leader Harriot Stanton Blatch cracks the whip
and tells activists “no more pink teas.”
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.
Many suffragists not only worked for civil rights, but they also took stands for peace –not an insignificant position during World War I. Votes for Women wasn’t a single issue for many women in the suffrage movement. They may have worked for their own civil rights, but they viewed the struggle in a broader context. Here’s an excellent article about the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize that gives an overview of the award’s history and the significance of this year’s awards honoring three women. The piece points out the importance of women being involved in bringing about an end to armed conflict and how many peace efforts lack the participation of women altogether.
Concerned in 1913 that they might be criticized for being unproper, the suffragists laid down strict rules for marchers. See the article explaining how Mrs. James Lees Laidlaw didn’t like the looks of legs in a parade. “It looked very bad last year,” she explained, to see children’s long legs “bobbing” along. “This year we won’t allow any one in line whose skirt is more than four inches above the ground.”
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.